Yoyo Cao ’22 gave this talk at the 2022 Mein Chapel service.
Believe it or not, I only spent 13 months on this beautiful campus. I still remember my virtual learning session over Zoom my sophomore spring and my entire junior year, and all I could recall is how suffocated I felt behind my computer screen, hoping I could scream in the middle of an all-school meeting, wishing someone would still remember me, the girl who joined Class of 2022 a little while ago.
Perhaps I never enjoyed this place as much as I wanted three years ago. I had to squeeze into different friend groups, introducing myself to people over and over again, struggling to find my friends, my group who would understand me. To be honest with you, I am not a big fan of socializing. To me, it seems like I’m packaging and selling myself to a group of buyers. A few times when I caught myself faking my laughs or throwing random jokes just to create a sense of humor, I hated myself. I warned myself; I need to stay true, stay down to earth.
Now, I’ve met different people over my years as a student. Some like to report to faculties with things I’ve never done, others like to gossip in big circles just to spread a fake rumor. I’ve never shared this with anyone, but I used to be a member of the toxic friend groups. In fifth grade, I told a group of kids to stand around me in between classes just because my class teacher asked me to “supervise” the class. I threw my friends’ stationery from the top of our class building just for fun. I even hand-picked my exclusive guest list for my 10-year-old birthday party, and when the news spread to the entire class, some kids begged me to join my waitlist, I felt awesome. I could feel my ego growing bigger and more ambitious each day… These are all things that I regret, but all too late.
Countless times in my dreams I compared the two sides of myself. Myself when I’m at St. Andrews, and my old self when I could easily play the leading role of Mean Girls 3. I know, I can see the concerns in your eyes. But I promise you, I was bad. I was not only bad, but also didn’t realize the consequences of the series of things I’ve done. So what changed me after attending boarding school after boarding school since 12? Easy, because I have no family in the States at all. I learned how lucky it is to grow up in the company of your parents, not worrying about packing your entire childhood into two suitcases, flying between countries and driving between states. I realized how I hated parents weekend when I have to wait in front of each classroom by myself while listening to other families plan for the weekend. I quickly found out, I can’t even afford to be sick or have any mental breakdowns since I don’t have the privilege to go home, or have my parents by my side to support me. And guess what, I even have to congratulate myself on my graduation in four days. For me, I am all I have. So I can’t be a stupid annoying girl anymore, I have to be responsible for myself, my actions, but most importantly, I am in desperate need of finding a new family.
I started my mission by seeking a role as a big sister on dorm. Being an only child, I’ve always wanted to have an older brother who would protect me from everything. Although it is quite hard for my parents to create an older sibling now, I am still able to find younger sisters. I remember the first night on duty, when I entered different rooms and put the girls to bed, I felt a sense of responsibility, something I always wanted to feel at home. When I was a part of the Cross Country team, I felt the same while watching my teammates crossing the finishing line one after another. I felt proud, and I enjoyed listening. I have become a good listener and now find myself absorbing different opinions and ambivalent emotions every day. I can feel myself turning into a Sponge Bob since the first day of my senior year, and don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but here is the problem — I am missing my Patrick.
Each day, I find it harder to share my problems, the things I dislike, and even about the milestones I made in class. I just simply listened. It felt fine throughout the first half of my senior year, until one night in March, I finally crashed. Perhaps I felt lost not knowing where I’m heading for college, perhaps I saw too many parents driving to campus that week but none of the cars are going to pick me up, perhaps I am still finding my Patrick, perhaps… Perhaps I’m tired of finding myself a family, perhaps I spent too much time wandering around this country by myself, perhaps this is my time to pick up the microphone and share my problems with all of you. That night I got lost, I forgot why I chose this place three years ago. Bumping into people in the hallway until I finally made it to Mrs. Berl’s apartment, I wanted answers. We sat there for hours, until white tissue balls buried my trembling hands. I wanted to see my old self from Mrs. Berl’s eyes when she first met me in the admission office three years ago, when I had dreams and ambitions, when I knew what I wanted, when I thought I had everything under control…
That night was my lowest low throughout my entire St. Andrew’s career, but I finally found myself an audience who I felt comfortable sharing my problems with, who liked to listen to my problems, and who is able to give me the most honest advice no matter how brutal it is. The following week I felt so much better, and all I did was simply talk. It was the first time in my entire life when I felt safe to open my heart and just talk without worrying about people’s feelings, boundaries, or sensitive topics. I just talked. The following month I simply enjoyed myself with people around me. I talked with anyone I saw at the table, on the front lawn, in classrooms. I never felt so free in my entire life.
Recently I finished watching the Dead Poet’s Society for the first time. When the English teacher Mr. Keating asked the boys, “If the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse, what will your verse be?” I asked myself the same question. Frankly, I think my entire senior year is the answer. Perhaps in less than three years none of the student body would remember me, perhaps in five years faculties would have a hard time matching my face with my name, perhaps Moss will become a new building and Founders won’t be the same… There are so many uncertainties in the near future, but I’m absolutely sure about this: that my little sister will greet her little sister the same way I met her on the first day of school; my girls on Moss will become awesome residents on M, L, K, and soon turn into seniors who could make a homesick kid smile again; and most importantly, my advisor, Mrs. Berl, will forever be my American mom. Friends, I think I found it. After all these years, I found myself a place where I can call home, I found myself a family who would teach me how to play blackjack no matter how much work they have, I found myself people who I could trust and rely on.
Now I want to ask all of you the same question, “If you are about to leave St. Andrews and you may contribute a verse, what will your verse be?” Carry that answer in your heart, and let’s SEIZE THE DAY!
- Yoyo Cao ’22
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