Dear Jeremy

In his blogging swan song, Jeremy Park ’20 hops into a time machine and writes inspirational letters to his 18 and 22-year old self.

Dear Jeremy @ 18,

On a cool January night, State will pull off the unbelievable: a win against Duke at Cameron Indoor. You’ll rush from your dorm to Hillsborough as shouts of “WOLF – PACK!” shake the campus. The basketball players will pull up and be exalted like demigods; they’ll stand on cars and sing “Bad and Boujee.”

In such a euphoric moment, something terrible will happen: your phone will die. Panic sets in. Who’s going to record this on Snapchat? But now that you can’t use your phone anymore, you’ll be free. Now you can actually enjoy the moment without worrying about posting about it, and you’ll realize how addicted you’ve been to connectivity. Could you experience something without posting about it? It was within that sea of phones and lights where you began to reevaluate your priorities.

In the following days, you’ll think about a story you read about Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler, the NBA’s 2015 Most Improved Player. You’ll remember how the summer before his breakout season, he chose to live in a house without internet or cable. He did this so his living situation would be so boring that he would have nothing to do but work out.

You’ll connect with that idea — going to great lengths to force yourself to be serious about the work in front of you. And you’ll relate with Butler’s desire to accomplish great things (though you dream more of emulating Elon Musk than Michael Jordan).

And one of the first things you’ll do in your Goodnight seminar is clarify what you want in life. You’ll spend the first couple weeks of class talking about your values and setting goals for the next year. Priorities are different for everyone, but you’ll want to form strong relationships, contribute to sustainability, and grow professionally. But even though you set all these goals for yourself, you’ll lose sight of this as you get bogged down by school.

So you’ll stop using social media and listening to music and podcasts for weeks at a time to gain some headspace. You’ll start practicing mindfulness meditation. You’ll make a concerted effort throughout the spring to become more grounded in the present.

A big step toward sharpening your focus will come when you’ll visit Trinidad and Tobago with other Goodnight Scholars over spring break. You won’t have your phone for a week, and it’ll be amazing.

There will be so many things in life clamoring for your attention this year, and the hard part of college is truly giving yourself to what’s important.

You’ll be immersed in a small, biodiverse island in the Caribbean. You’ll hike through the Trinidadian rainforest, you’ll see a sea so blue it blends into the sky, you’ll swim under a mountain waterfall, you’ll sit on a boat in the Caroni swamp, you’ll drink coffee on a veranda while watching hummingbirds fly right in front of your face. You’ll visit local schools and teach lessons about Trinidadian habitats. As your teammate Kelly shows pictures of snakes and turtles, you’ll smile as the kids shriek in both awe and fear. Those moments in the Trinidad classrooms will always stick with you.

Don’t worry — you won’t abandon technology altogether (you’re a Computer Science major, after all). You’ll realize that iPhones, Twitter, and Snapchat do have value, but as you grow as a person, you will intentionally become less connected.

There will be so many things in life clamoring for your attention this year, and the hard part of college is truly giving yourself to what’s important. Those things include education, sustainability, art, friendship, and more.

Jeremy, you’re going to have an exhilarating year; I feel like I was moving into Metcalf just last month. I hope you love it all and enjoy the moment, because all you have is now.

Dear Jeremy @ 22,

I just finished up my freshman year, and man, it’s been hard. It’s been the most intellectually and emotionally challenging year of my life, but I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been thinking about the changes I need to start making, so I just wanted to write to you and express my hopes for what you would become.

I hope you’re content with what you’ve accomplished at State, because I feel like I didn’t do enough this past year. It’s not that I wasn’t working hard — you know, I’m obsessed with productivity — but my attention was so divided. I admire someone like Elon Musk, who spends half his week working to colonize Mars, the other half bringing about mass sustainable transport, and at least half a day working to ensure safe and beneficial artificial intelligence. Here’s someone who’s working on incredibly noble and life-changing projects, and doing it with style and flair. I know Elon Musk is a special case, obviously, but I’m really inspired by how he wakes up every day and gives himself to meaningful work. I don’t expect you to be some world-renowned innovator at age 22 — I just hope you’ve found meaningful work to give yourself to.

Going into college, I knew I wanted to work toward sustainability. And this year, it’s amazing that I’ve met so many like-minded people who want to do the same. For the Goodnight Seminar class, I’ve been working on a group project to develop a product that helps relieve climate change. I attended a lot of events and forums about the implications of climate change, and they inspired me to continue to make this my end goal. Remember that trip to Trinidad? That also solidified my desire to contribute to sustainability. All that natural beauty changed me; I can’t look at a flower or bird anymore without being transported back to Trinidad. But honestly, I don’t have much to show for this passion except the stories to share. I didn’t get very involved in student organizations around campus this year, but I really hope that’s changed for you. Whether through your work or as a side project, I hope you’ve worked on your passion for sustainability.

One of the goals that I wrote down at the beginning of the year in Goodnight class was to form meaningful relationships, and I hope you’ve been able to do that even more so than I have. Last week, I was riding with my friend in the car and he said quite frankly, “I don’t want you to get to graduation and wish that you had spent more time with your friends.” And that really hit me, because I didn’t have any close friends my senior year of high school. I would just go home and do homework. I ate alone my senior year quite frequently. But by being at State, I have met some of the most inspiring, wonderful, and caring people in my life, many of whom are in the Goodnight Scholars Program. I went through a lot of tough times this year, but I got through it with the help of friends who are willing to stop everything they’re doing to help you. Friends who lend you an ear when you’re stressed out. Friends who care about the same things you do and inspire you to follow your curiosities. Above all of the events and workshops, the most meaningful experiences have simply been sharing a meal with some friends. I hope, despite your desire to find important work, you’ve made this a priority too.

What I really hope you realize — above all else — is this: It’s not about you! It’s about passion, friendship, love, art, education, generosity, and so much more.

You might remember that I’ve recently been thinking a lot about STEAM (STEM with the Arts). Growing up, I never knew how to reconcile my artistic and scientific sides. I was always good in STEM, but I also enjoyed writing stories and drawing pictures. Although I’m a computer science major, in my free time I don’t think about computer science — I think about music, movies, and stories. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I grew up thinking these two sides of me ought to be compartmentalized, but in this last year I’ve sought to integrate the two. This year, I had the pleasure of listening to and meeting people like Nina Tandon, who makes artwork from cells, and Skylar Tibbits, who is animating architecture with 4D printing. I often think about the work of companies like Pixar: telling stories through beautiful animation and technology. One day this year, I sat in the library and watched a TED talk from a Pixar employee who explained all the physics and science that went into animating Finding Nemo. It got me so hype. I believe it’s possible to combine my storytelling side with my technical side. I hope you’ve worked to merge the two, and haven’t given up on either.

Just look at a movie like Wall-E. This film combines art and technology, teaches a lesson about sustainability, and makes a social commentary. Consider this a model for how you could make a difference in your community, whether through teaching kids how to code, starting programs on storytelling, or showing people how urgent climate change is. I hope you’re committed to STEAM education.

On campus this year, I’ve seen quite frequently people with these red t-shirts and a quote on the back from Jimmy V: “A person doesn’t really become whole until he becomes a part of something greater than himself.” What I really hope you realize — above all else — is this: It’s not about you! It’s about passion, friendship, love, art, education, generosity, and so much more.

So I hope you’re not worrying about the extraneous details or what may or may not happen; the past is frozen and the future is uncertain. And as much as I enjoy writing to you and reflecting on the last year, there is no better time than the present — all I have is now.

~ J