LA News Archive
by Lisa Li ’16
I’m aware that I have the reputation of being a nerd … Well, ironically, I was never a very diligent student in middle school; I would maybe read the textbook once and then just hope for the best. I never hated school — I actually really liked school — but I just thought I had better things to do with my life during my free time. I liked biking around the city with my friends, going to karaoke, walking five kilometers in the park with my mom, chilling with my cat … Sometimes it got frustrating when I wanted to hang out but everyone else wanted to study for exams. I would cry to my mom, saying, “I don’t get it. What is there to study for?” After all, I was just a happy girl, outgoing, carefree, not worried about the past or the future.
That all changed when I realized my purpose, and ambition took me over. You see, I am an “accidental” only child. I say this because my parents always hoped for more children. I was born under Chairman Mao’s policy of one child per family, and while my parents obeyed, they held out hope that the law would change and I would have siblings. So they raised me with a loving heart, a compassionate spirit, and the capacity to embrace the siblings I would surely have one day. Well, as you may know, China did lift the one-child policy, but only this year, so while I am an only child, I was raised to be a big sister.
What does “big sister training” do for you when younger siblings do not appear? It urged me to put down everything, come here for school, and start a new life. I don’t think I thought it through too well, but the moment I stepped on an unfamiliar campus in an unfamiliar town around a quad full of strangers, I realized I was alone. It never hit me until then that I had left behind the most important parts of my life: my friends, my family, my home. I was all on my own; no one was responsible for solving my problems, for providing me a home, or for making sure I was okay.
No offense to anyone, but for some reason, you all looked really scary to me back then. I wanted to reach out, to tell someone how I felt, or at least ask for help. But, under severe shock and fear, I forgot how to talk to people or communicate how I truly felt. Not knowing where to release my stress and sadness, I turned to my books. I began to do my least favorite thing — reading something or doing the math problems over and over again — because only that way could I distract myself from my emotions; only that way I could exhaust myself before going to bed so that I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep.
For a long time, I sought comfort in doing work obsessively. Instead of overcoming my fear and making real friends, I made friends with my schoolwork and textbooks. It felt like, in a world where everything is getting out of control, my work was the only thing that I could keep under control. It seemed to me like an efficient coping mechanism. However, what I didn’t realize was that, slowly, I was losing who I was and trapping myself into darkness.
At the end of sophomore year, I decided not to live like that anymore. I re-evaluated my life and tried to figure out what made me the happiest. What makes me truly happy is not working non-stop mechanically, nor getting perfect grades. What makes me truly happy is making people smile: making my friends smile, my family, my community, making the ones who are struggling smile. Building a home for the little wanderers, giving girls in the Middle East access to education, bringing water to those who suffer from droughts, letting men and women get paid equally, protecting everyone’s right to get married — being a big sister to them all. My dream is to make the world a more comfortable place for everyone. Only by speaking against injustice and helping those in need can I fill myself with positive energy.
In my junior year, I began seeing connections in all my subjects about how to make the world a better place. Exploring social issues and movements in my history class, I began to notice the inequalities and injustices portrayed in literature for the past 200 — or even, in my Latin class, 2,000 — years. I developed a genuine interest in all the subjects I took and wanted to take them a few steps further, exploring how to use those subjects to better the world. That is why I took the opportunity to go to Stanford in 2015 for the IIP [Independent Immersion Program]; there I researched how to help the children who are left alone in the rural areas of China develop healthily and intellectually.
Today, I’m a happy person and a happy learner because I’ve found a reason to learn that grants me infinite, positive energy. I no longer study mechanically as my source of comfort; instead, I learn because I can use my knowledge to make others happier.
Looking back at my academic journey at LA, I just want to say, “Thank you!” Thank you, Mr. Culley, for reminding me to never be satisfied with the status quo and to always strive for the better. Thank you, Mr. Karp, for making me laugh so hard every day in class and for assuring me of the quality of my work with a smile on your face or a firm pat on my shoulder. Thank you, LA IIP, for giving me a chance to go to Stanford, where I made life-long friends who would change the world with me. Thank you to my advisor, Ms. Ruby, for always being there for me for the past four years, not just as my advisor. Thank you to all my friends, for keeping me company through the hardest times, for making my life and my existence worthwhile. Thank you, my darkest times, for making me a diligent student. Thank you, LA, where I found myself after losing myself, where I found my passion for life, where I grew happily with amazing people. I encourage all of you to find a reason that you learn, your own source of positive energy!
Now, it’s almost time for me to say goodbye. But it is also a chance for me to say hello to a whole new world, as I extend my studies at Bryn Mawr. And to remind you all, your big sister has got your back!
From an assembly speech given by Lisa in May 2016, and from a conversation Lisa had with Susan Hughes. This piece will also appear this the upcoming Academy Journal.