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The Story of Tonight by Afeefah K. '21

(more like 730 nights ago)

It hit me just a little while ago, that today is November 1st. It’s been exactly two years since I pressed the submit button on my MIT application. In the span of a lifetime, two years is really not that long. And yet here I am, struggling to remember just exactly where I was 2 years ago.  I have other things on my mind. The thermodynamics midterm next week. The mini prep and plate replications I have to do in lab tomorrow. The list of internship applications I need to fill out. The morning alarm clock that will pull me out of bed with only five hours of sleep.

I’m stuck in between the lines of my to-do list. In between my hour-by-hour schedule. But today is November 1st. It’s been exactly two years since I pressed the submit button on my MIT application.

It’s also been exactly one week since I watched Hamilton on tour. An entire week of attempting to do justice to one of the most beautiful productions of theatre. Of writing and editing and deleting. And writing again.

The only way to really describe the experience of watching Hamilton is to compare it to finishing a really good book. The lights begin to dim. The background music picks up. The spotlight sharply points to the set. The hall goes silent as hundreds of individual breaths are held in still air. One last moment to yourself before you’re pulled out of your seat into a three hour hullabaloo of interminable giggling, under breath singing, rhythmic stomping, loud chuckling and silent sobbing. You spend hours indulged into it. Reality and fiction become a big blur. You start to see things through the eyes of the characters. You smile when they smile, cry when they cry. And through it all you learn a little bit more about the world around you. The world in you.

And then you make it to the last page of the novel. The last song. The last sentence. The last lyric. And then it’s over. You don’t know what to do with yourself anymore. And so you do the two things you can do: listen to the playlist on repeat and attempt to make sense of it all by writing a blog post. So here it goes.  

Satisfied

As I made way to my seat, the air buzzed with a refreshing sense of anticipation and excitement. I took a look around at the sea of people brought together on a mundane Thursday night. It hit me then, in that very moment, that I had zero clue as to what to expect. I  had never listened to the Hamilton soundtrack in its entirety. I knew as much about Alexander as AP US History teaches. And well, it looked like everyone around me was better equipped going in.

My friends tell me that I had the better experience because of it. I was experiencing everything for the first time in the most unguided way possible. I shimmied along with King George. I sang along to Dear Theodosia. I laughed along with Thomas Jefferson. I felt the need to jump out of my seat for Hamilton. I cried MULTIPLE TIMES. And to be honest, it was refreshing. It made me feel a bit more human.

Senior year, my life mantra was “when was the last time you did something for the first time?” There’s just something about experiencing something new. Something different. Perhaps it’s the realization that those experiences make you a different person. That they pick you off of your feet and gently drop you a few steps ahead. And even if it’s in the smallest of ways, you’ve changed because of it. And change keeps life interesting. I needed a reminder of that.

Raise Your Glass To Freedom

Sophomore year has been hard. It’s been challenging in ways freshman-year Afeefah didn’t think possible. It’s become a routine of going to bed incredibly late. Of waking up early. Of starting my day by making a list for the rest of the day. Because suddenly, things seems to be moving faster than I can keep up with. It feels like I don’t have enough time to get all the things I want to get done. And so I make a list. Because making a list is the first step to optimization? Right?

But sometimes things can’t be planned. Because spontaneity is good. And stepping away from campus and taking an Uber down to the Boston Opera House and spending three hours of your life sitting in a theatre, followed by an hour of stage dooring in the cold is an experience that can’t be written down. It required throwing psets aside for later and sacrificing a few hours of sleep. It required going with the flow. It required putting my phone aside so that I constantly didn’t check time.

To a certain extent, I’ve become a prisoner to my attempt to become more systematic and more disciplined. And in doing so, I’ve forgotten the importance of balance. Of sometimes stepping away from work. Of leaving campus for a while. Of temporarily freeing myself from the interminable responsibilities and tasks I have. Because life isn’t meant to be reduced to a list of things to do.

Not Gonna Throw Away My Shot

In the midst of all of this, I often forget where I am in life. That at some point, I’ll look back at these four years. And I’ll think about how they changed me. Hopefully for the better.

Sometimes, in the moment, we get so focused on the struggles we face. That we forget what we’re struggling for in the first place. I haven’t had a single midterm go well this semester. And if anything it’s broken my self esteem into millions of little pieces. It’s left me “young, scrappy, and hungry.” There have been too many nights of going to bed feeling defeated. Of waking up in the morning feeling drained and tired from constantly trying and not meeting my self expectations.

It hits me though, in small doses, that this is my shot. My shot to do something with myself. To become a better version of myself. To shape tomorrow in whatever way I choose. To do something for others. And every day is a new shot. A new chance to wake up excited in the morning. To learn from the people around me. To meet someone new. To foster new friendships. To create storylines and memory pipelines for a lifetime.

It’s been two years since my journey with MIT began. Since a poster on my wall suddenly became my everyday reality. I’m still not sure why I’m here. I still wonder to myself what part of me someone else loved enough to let me in. Because to be honest, I’m at a point in my life where I really don’t know who I am. I don’t know what my strengths and weaknesses are. I don’t know what my selling point is. But I guess that’s the fun of it. Not knowing where I’m headed, but knowing that I am blessed and fortunate enough to have shots in the first place.

You’ll Blow Us All Away

Someday, someday.

When I look back at senior year, there are many people that come to mind. My parents, who listened to my constant complaining. Who gave me the space I needed when I was swamped with work. Who would bring food to me when I refused to get up to go eat. Who stood with me in moments of success and sat with me in moments of tears. Who constantly reminded me that I didn’t need to prove myself to anyone. My brother, who always made sure I blew off steam. Who was the comic relief in months of overwhelming stress and essay writing. My grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, who were always a FaceTime call away. Who were a world separate from the encompassing universe of college applications. My  teachers, whose doors were always open after school. Who read over my essays over and over again with patience. Who supported me to the very last minute. My college counselor, who sat with me the evening before my MIT interview to run through a mock. Who assured me, when I was stressed out of my mind, that all I had to do was believe in the person I was. My friends, who had their own essays to write, and yet would help edit mine. Who were constant reminders of the fleeting nature of senior year.

I like to think about all of these people frequently. Because it really does take a village to raise a child.  And if I am where I am in life today, I choose to believe that it’s in majority due to the people I have been fortunate enough to have in my life. Thinking about those people gives me motivation when I feel like I have none left.

And if I keep working at, maybe someday, someday. I might just blow them all away.

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

Watching Hamilton was an affirmation of just how much I love biographies. I love watching them. I love reading them. I love being able to see what a person starts off as and what they ultimately become. To trace back the story of their life.

The real beauty comes in realizing that every day is another page of our own personal biography. That we’re all in the process of writing one bit by bit. And sure, it might not make it to the bookshelves years from now. But that doesn’t matter. Because biographies are powerful regardless. Because every second of the day directs our story forward. And as we write our biographies, we don’t know where the plot is headed. To a certain extent, life may be writing huge chunks of the biography for us. But you ultimately get to dictate how its told. And that’s pretty empowering.

And I guess that’s my new goal. To take every moment as another addition to the story of me. And perhaps what’s even more appealing is being able to look back at the story you’ve written so far. To think that senior-year Afeefah couldn’t possibly have comprehended being in Boston a short two years later. And to think that I now have 19 years of life to look back at. 19 years to be proud of. And that day by day my biography only moves forward.

To those currently submerged in college applications, a few things to remember: Seek new experiences. Take breaks. Be spontaneous. Appreciate the people in your life. And most of all enjoy it all. You’re in the process of writing a new chapter for your biography. And when you feel ready for it, consider reading it out loud. I’d love to hear all about it.