I Got into Grad School! Also, Thoughts on Before I Fall

After submitting 15 applications, traveling to a new state every weekend for a month, and taking a lot of time to deliberate, I have accepted an offer to attend a renowned Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program in the D.C. metro area! I almost cannot believe that I started this blog as a sophomore in high school, and now, seven years later, I write this post just a few months before graduating from William & Mary and beginning a doctoral program in August. In addition to sharing this good news with everyone, I also want to reflect on a few ideas inspired by the film Before I Fall, which I saw a few nights ago and loved.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I am also in shock that this book came out in 2010 and that I read it in high school, so many years ago. Image via goodreads.com.

This intense application process and film both made me ask: why do we do what we do? In the film, our main character, Sam Kingston, acts as a spineless member of a fearsome foursome of girls who bully their peers and make several bad decisions. Sam does not question her place in this group until she dies and is forced to re-experience her last living day over and over. Then, she starts to question: why do I tease these people? Why do I spend time with these three mean, obnoxious girls? I appreciate how the film portrays Sam not as an innate devil of a character, rather, it shows that she, like so many of us, get stuck in our day-to-day, to the point where we cease to question why we do what we do.

This emphasis on the “why” made me think about the grad school application process and my undergraduate career overall. So many students, throughout their education, just go through their routines without really pausing to consider the implications of their actions. Why do so many of us bend over backwards to secure a high GPA, when that number will mean nothing to us in a few years? If today were our last day, would we really spend it stressing over X assignment or Y task, or would we try to spread love to our friends and close ones? Of course, unlike the movie, we have to consider our futures within the context of a capitalist society – but I wonder how much happiness and fulfillment we would feel if we stopped to reflect on our values and if what we do really brings us joy.

airport food for phd interviews lol

This random photo of airport food represents my value of appreciating my access to and enjoyment of food, even in the midst of hectic PhD interviews.

Another amazing scene in the movie: Sam confronts her savage friend, Lindsay, and asks her: “why didn’t you tell me about your parents’ divorce?” Sam, in a moment that showcases her newfound maturity, understands that Lindsay’s meanness and cruelty stems from her own internal pain. She sees past Lindsay’s tough facade and acknowledges the frightened, insecure girl underneath.

Sam’s moment of understanding speaks to so much of the pain I have encountered and seen in my own life. Some of the competitive, not-so-friendly attitudes of those vying for prestigious positions or awards comes from an internal insecurity that longs for an external source of control, of power. I have observed otherwise kind people stay silent about wrongdoings so that they could remain part of a group, because they felt afraid to speak up and risk their membership. Those who join white supremacist groups often do so after being bullied or indoctrinated by their families, and men who abuse others have often been conditioned to do so because of toxic masculinity. Of course, none of these factors justify horrendous actions like physical assault or emotional mistreatment – but they help us understand the roots of these people’s pain, so we can work toward healing, progress, and prevention.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have faced some awful challenges in my life. At a younger age, I used to worry if experiencing these challenges would make me look weak or damaged or incompetent in some way. But now I see: if we learn to live with our values, embrace our scars and vulnerabilities, and commit ourselves to self-care, anything is possible. I hope I can help others on this journey in this exciting new stage of my career.

ariana grande dangerous woman tour pic

A fab pic of Queen Ariana Grande on her Dangerous Woman tour, which I saw last week. My future faculty mentor and some grad students in my program already know of my love for Ariana, so, I guess they are already aware of everything important about me. Image via popcrush.com.

How has everyone been doing with grad school apps/the job search process/life in general? I hope that after I finish up this school year I will have more time to blog before I begin grad school. If anyone has any recommendations about apartment hunting (e.g., what features to look for, how to make effective use of a tour, etc.) please let me know. Until next time!

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “I Got into Grad School! Also, Thoughts on Before I Fall

  1. Congratulations on getting accepted into your program!! That’s so amazing! 🙂 (Also, super jealous that you got to see Ariana!)

  2. What a journey you’re on, and what a privilege to witness it! I admit to being somewhat selfishly glad you’ll be in the DMV just a little while longer, if only for the chance to watch you continue to grow up close. Best of luck with this new chapter, and thank you for all the work you do and will go on to do – and, of course, for the film rec (:

  3. This is wonderful news, Thomas! Much congrats. I hope you’re well and that you continue listening and pushing Ariana Grande on everyone you meet in grad school.

    • Ha ha “pushing Ariana Grande on everyone you meet in grad school,” you know me too well Joey. Thank you for taking the time to read and to comment, I really appreciate it!

  4. So excited for you!! And can’t believe time has flown so quickly – I think I first started reading this blog when you were doing college applications!

    “But now I see: if we learn to live with our values, embrace our scars and vulnerabilities, and commit ourselves to self-care, anything is possible. I hope I can help others on this journey in this exciting new stage of my career.” – this is why I think you’re amazing.

    Also, talking about stuff is amazingly powerful. I’m facing a medical issue at the moment (not for mention on Facebook – I don’t think anyone there reads this blog too) and talking about it openly has released other people to talk about their fears and experiences in a really positive way.

    And I don’t have apartment-hunting tips but I do have resources on my blog about PhD research and writing up (for when you get there) and also tons of experience with PhD researchers as friends and clients, so hit me up with any questions and worries and panics and triumphs and I’ll do my best to help.

    • Liz, thank you so much for your consistent support! I am sorry that you are facing a medical issue but am glad that you feel you have empowered people as well as yourself by speaking about it openly. Also, I very well may contact you about PhD writing tips, as I’m sure that’ll come in handy soon. Hope you are doing well, friend, and I appreciate your presence on this blog a lot.

  5. Congratulations on the new grad program! I’m finishing my last grad class this semester, then trying to balance my thesis project with a move & full-time job. :/ But grad school is a great experience and I can’t wait to see what you will do.

    I also read Before I Fall in high school. I’m looking forward to reading it again before I see the movie.

    • Thank you so much, and congrats on finishing up your program! I hope you enjoyed rereading Before I Fall if you did so before seeing the movie. (: I appreciate you taking the time to read and to comment.

  6. I’ve already said this on fb, but my biggest congratulations to you, Thomas! I am so proud of you for getting into such a competitive program. Reading about your passion for helping others makes you a perfect candidate for such a position. They’re lucky to have you. 🙂

    Before I Fall was my first Lauren Oliver book and I still remember it being hard-hitting when I read it as a young teen for the same reasons you bring up in this post. You’re so right. In the process of just trying to live life, we don’t stop to ask our ourselves “why” enough.

    Anyway, it was so nice getting an update from you again, Thomas. (I still cannot believe you’ve been blogging for that long!) And I hope that the final stretch of college goes smoothly for you. 🙂

    Summer

    • Thank you so much Summer, I am so grateful we got to connect across multiple social media platforms and that we have been able to see each other grow as writers and as people over time. Hope you are doing well and I very much appreciate you taking the time to read and to comment.

  7. Congratulations Thomas on grad school, that’s amazing news! I’m glad to hear you’ve chosen the counseling discipline. I think you are well suited to it and the world will be very lucky to have your skills! 🙂

  8. Za

    First of all, CONGRATS!!!!!!!
    Second of all, I came from a book review of The Joy Luck Club you cross posted on goodreads in 2011. I clicked the link skeptically as I was sure this blog would have been long abandoned…but no! I’m glad you kept on writing and I’ll be quietly consuming the contents of this blog in the following days if not weeks if not months…if not years. Counselling – wow. Congratulations!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Za, they mean a lot! And ha, yep, I have not yet abandoned this blog – and I am still gonna keep on posting, starting with a new one tonight. Hope you enjoyed the contents of this blog that you’ve seen and I hope I get to hear from you again in the future. (:

  9. Congratulations on your acceptance. I hope you will continue to pursue your vocation with passion and compassion.

  10. Davey1999

    Hello Thomas. You probably won’t read this, but I hope you do. I can’t say that I have been a long time fan. I only found your blog today after looking for an article about coming out to your roomate. I loved your writing when I first started reading. Then I discovered that you were also asian and gay (like me), but most importantly someone that is ultimately transparent and honest in their writing. I continued to read some of your older articles and I got a sense of who you are as a person. You are smart, kind, hardworking, and I admire your struggles and mindset to persevere through whatever you go through. Why am I writing this? I’m going to college in the fall and I want to tell you how much of an impact your small blog has made on me. I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe in one sitting and fell in love. I feel like we would have made good friends in a parallel universe. Thanks for continuing to write!

    • Hi there, thank you so much for this meaningful comment, it literally made my day. It warms my heart to know that my writing has provided you with some enjoyment and/or fulfillment, and I’m super appreciative that you took time out of your day to comment and let me know. Yes to all of this: being gay and Asian, reading Aristotle and Dante, and communicating across the internet to establish a friendship that otherwise would only have existed in a parallel universe. I hope you are doing well and are happy wherever you are and that I can hear from you again – and if not, I still hope you are thriving. (:

  11. Amy

    AHHHH THOMAS! Congratulations on getting into grad school! And in the DC area too! I’m actually starting law school in DC this fall too. Here’s to a new chapter in our nation’s capital!

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