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Well, Here We Are

Interviews on the way out with the class of 2017 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Edited by Ben Eggleston


Expectations with Lee Landess and Shiva Sethi

When you were coming in, what were your expectations?

Lee: I remember, maybe a month into freshman year, sitting at Late Night with my suitemates. there was a
long silence. And one of us just goes, Dude, why aren't we getting laid more? What's been happening?
Theres a 60:40 ratio, we go out all the time, what are we doing wrong? So that speaks to expectations.

You hear that a lot. College is portrayed that way.

Lee: You do. I spent a lot of senior year [of high school] watching Blue Mountain State and was like thats it, this
will be my life. And admittedly, things picked up after...

Shiva: They definitely did.

Lee: That year actually.

Shiva: My experience was a little weird because I went to boarding school, which is a lot more like a small
college than a high school. It was useful to have lived away. I had done that for 4 years. Socially, going to my
first frat party, that actually kind of lived up to expectations. Academically, there were a lot of stupid classes at
the beginning. And I think college classes take a while to get good, or interesting, or worth your money.

Lee: The best GPA I ever had was first semester freshman year.

Same.

Lee: I had heard from kids from my high school that it was not too difficult. And that was my
experience. Especially because - I was coming off a rough break up - I made a pretty active choice that I'm
here to study. And I did. But it was really lonely. Super lonely to do that. Great GPA; really lonely. I think it's
because my high school sent so many to UNC that it almost became viewed as a cop out. Which is ridiculous.
I think I came in expecting meh academically. It did get harder.

Shiva: I started off fine academically but I definitely got better most semesters after. I think part of it was
coming from the North to the South.

Where did you go to high school?

Shiva: From New York, went to a boarding school in Virginia. And this is terrible but coming from the
North I used to think Southerners were stupid. And I remember my first intelligent smart Southern person
and it was like, oh. I guess they can be...

Up north, people just didn't know about UNC. Like when I would say UNC I might as well have said Wyoming State.
Shiva: They don't know and they don't care. I turned down NYU and I have never regretted it. Having a
good sports team for once is a big difference for me. I've never played basketball. I played football and swam
in high school. Getting into college basketball, definitely a pivotal moment for me was when we beat Duke.

Unnamed Individual A: We set off fireworks in Hooker Field.

Unnamed Individual B: Where the hell did you get fireworks?

Shiva: Anyway, freshman year was good.

Lee: Yeah. Its weird thinking back. It was very angsty. But then its pivotal, you know, so its hard not to
think fondly about it. And I definitely did have lots of really great times.

I came in with all these big expectations about how college was going to be wild and crazy. But I spent most of my time with other
freshmen who also had all these expectations, and it was mostly us being in dorms with each other.

Lee: I remember... I rushed around a bit. I talked to [Lees friend] Dave about it. And I said, Im actually just
mostly doing this to meet women. And he said, Well, if you just wanna get drunk and have sex, everyones
doing that. Thats the whole schtick here. So just join any club ever.

Shiva: Itll work out.

(A pause)

Lee: That same friend who was like Why arent we getting laid?, and maybe Im realizing hes just kind of a
shithead, but, we were standing on the railing in E-Haus. There was a really cute girl across the way talking on
the phone and I said Wow. shes real cute. He said Yeah, but shes talking on the phone, 8:00, long
conversation - probably her boyfriend. And I was like, Oh, boyfriend, tragic. And he was like, But you
know, you and I, were the reason those relationships end. Lets be those guys.

Shiva: Thats terrible. (Laughing) So fucked up. I think freshman year was the year that perfected the art of the
rebound. Like being someone elses rebound. It was pretty much the theme of that year, in terms of my
romantic life. I was terrible then. It was terrible.

Lee: But there arent stereotypes about what you do in your down time. You have a lot of time. I remember
calling my sister and saying Theres so much time. I dont know what to do with all this freedom.

Those were the days.

Lee: Those were the days.


Expectations II with David Lee

Coming in, did you have any expectations, whether social or academic, that turned out to not be the case?

David: Yeah, I think I had a lot of extrinsic things that I felt like I needed to do, which were pretty unhealthy.
I definitely fell into Oh, I need to do so many things, I have to be really engaged and involved, I have to be
the best student. And I just stressed myself about it. I remember doing the Honors Carolina thing, there was
a little banquet. And I remember Jim Leloudis, who runs that program, was like Whatever you accomplish
here, whether its getting your Phi Beta Kappa key... [Phi Beta Kappa is an academic honors society.] And I was
like, ok, thats my only goal in college. (Laughing) I was eighteen, had no idea what the hell anything meant.
And I ended up doing a lot of stuff my freshman year that was unnecessary. But what was nice was joining
Sigma Phi [social fraternity]. There was a lot of pressure to join certain institutions, but this one was very
supportive of me, and I was able to talk about mental illness, and able to express vulnerability and feel
support in a way that I think other communities on campus dont foster as well. It was very important in my
life. But that was another thing, is that I was like, I should join a fraternity, right? Isnt that what they do in
college? And then four years later, were sitting on this porch.

I feel like the topic of mental illness, while weve been here, it feels like its becoming... theres a lot of discussion about mental
illness, sort of, but it feels like that focus is still in its early days. I think that down the road, mental health will be taken - not
that we dont take it seriously, but we just dont think about it all the time. Like you would never have a race without handing
out water. I hope the focus on mental health will be a little more present, everywhere, and more comprehensive. And not like hey,
try going to CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] on the second floor of this building you might not know exists.

One issue I have is that theres so much shame involved in just being able to say you have, like... some mental
health thing. We dont want to say that we are experiencing some form of mental illness, because then well
appear weak, and we dont want to appear weak because then well appear vulnerable. So then we have a
value issue culturally, which is that we dont value vulnerability, we dont value honesty, and we dont value
expressing the gambit and range of emotions and experiential life that we have. There is a premium placed on
not saying those things, even when there is a profound detriment to our communities and to our individual
selves. Because lifes hard, you know? Its reasonable. Schools not easy. We have so many expectations put
on us, and we need to be able to find ways to cope and to talk.

One of the major expectations that exists in college, and one of the reasons I think people have a tough time talking about mental
illness - one of the biggest expectations is to have the time of your life. One of the worst things you can do in college is be sad. If
you broke your leg, people would be like Oh, that sucks! Get better. But to say Im unhappy is somehow such a severe thing.
Especially in college, where youre unhappy in the middle of, like, Holi Moli was last weekend, bar golf is next weekend, Im
seeing my friends... Theres a lot of positive energy on this campus, but that context can make it... college can be kind of a
performance at times.

I remember being a first-year, living in Koury, thinking I fucking hate this place. Feeling like you had to be
so buddy-buddy all the time. Whoop-de-doo, college! Getting off campus, I was a lot happier.

(We are distracted by a pair of cardinals)

Hmm. I had one more point to make on the topic. (Pause.) Your point was about the expectation to have
fun...Oh. One: just total nonsense. Because things start fracturing way more. All of a sudden you have to
make all of these decisions and it gets all existential and shit and whatnot. But I felt that notion of college was
a myth very early on, even during my first semester. Because I loved home so much. I loved the mountains, I
loved my dog, and I loved my friends, and I loved my moms food. I got to college and I would wake up and
think I was at home. It was a god-awful feeling. And then I eventually started cultivating that sense of place.
But that wasnt until the second semester that I felt comfortable here. And I realized: college is going to be
different. Its going to be better and its going to be worse. But things dont have to be hierarchically good or
bad. Its just different.

Making Friends with Megan Pugh

Megan: I dont think I could have been luckier with the housing situation. [Her friends:] Caroline was a great
roommate, I was across the hall from Anna and Elva, and Malgie was in the suite next door and her
roommate was a psychopath so she slept on my floor all the time. I made my friend group immediately. But
overall, socially it wasnt as welcoming as I thought it would be. I thought that when you go to college, you go
to the cafeteria and you sit down and a bunch of random people sit down next to you and youre like Oh my
god, now were all best friends! I literally thought that was how it happened. Think about it: I had never had
to make friends before, ever in my entire life. The first friends I ever made, I was four. All you have to do is
like the same color. I thought friends would be falling from the sky. Though I do like how my friend group
worked out.

But its hard.

Its hard! Its a lot of work. Especially making guy friends. In high school, most of my friends were guys. But
in college, making guy friends was really hard.

What kind of obstacles did you encounter?


Everyone wanted to fuck you! (laughing ) Wed be trying to make friends with guys and they would be like
Oh my god, is this the opportunity, is this the college opportunity? I didnt know if they were trying to
hook up with me, or trying to make friends, or just trying to spike my drink Going to parties is not a good
way to make friends. Its a good way to get drugged.

Did that get easier over time?

Well, a few things happened. One is that guys got more mature and realized We should have friends that are
girls too. You know, its a great way to, one, meet other girls (laughing) but also its just nice to have friends
that are girls. I got way better at handling it, at discerning youre a creepy fuck, youre kind of cool. And I
started making friends that had similar interests. I met people in class.

Any advice for your younger self?

Dont take yourself so seriously. Freshman year I thought I needed to do all of the reading, all of the
bookwork, and if I dont study every day for hours Ill never be able to do anything, and thats just not true. I
missed a lot of opportunities to just be stupid. My advice would be to take more weird chances. Dont be
afraid to get blackout on a Tuesday night. I missed some cool, crazy moments. But also dont romanticize the
partying, because as fun as it is, its not the only thing thats fun. One of my favorite nights was - do you
remember when Spencer came over and made up that weird-ass game? It was like Mafia, but with cards

Werewolf?

Werewolf! That was one of my favorite nights, just playing some weird - we werent even high.

I felt like I was high towards the end, trying to deal with Malgie.

She had no idea - she was trying to tell me later that she knew what was going on, that she was manipulating
the game the whole time. But she knew nothing.

Making Friends II with Caroline Jennings

Caroline: Ive reflected a lot.

Good.

I can do a reflection thing.

Have you ever felt lonely in college?


Oh yeah. Freshman year. I hated it so much. Which had to do with my high school boyfriend. We kept doing
that on/off thing, and I whenever he wasnt here or we werent talking all the time I felt super lonely. I didnt
really realize that friends could be a replacement. That was probably the biggest personal development over
the course of college: not relying on a single person to counteract this loneliness. I have this friend John who
went to high school with me. After the breakup he called me and said I know youre struggling right now,
but this emptiness youre feeling can be filled, specifically with female friends. Id always done a bad job of
building relationships with female friends. One, because I had a lot of guy friends from cross country and
two, because there werent a lot of girls at my high school that I really liked. But I really started honing in on
those relationships.

All my friends, but especially my female friends have made some really strong, lifelong friendships in college.

Oh my gosh, yeah. I never even knew these types of friendships existed. For the first time ever, I feel like I
love my friends. Whereas before, I liked them and they were convenient. But now, the people Ive developed
these really deep friendships with, I will 100% always have, and go to them for anything and everything.

Bonus Round: Passions

Caroline: One thing that I was really self-conscious about, coming into college, was that I felt like I didnt
have a passion. I met all these people who were like I love criminal justice! And there wasnt this one
thing that I wanted to shout to people about. Ive now found it, and it took me until this year to find
something that I was super passionate about. Its twofold: mental health and UX [User Experience]. A lot of
people who say they have a passion are just going along with it, because it feels good to have a thing. But if
you dont have a thing, that doesnt make you any less of a person, or less interesting, less engaging socially.

Thank you.

Consider the Reserve Officers Training Corps with Kit Kenny

Kit: When I came to UNC, I was very grateful. I think thats something that people coming in should really
keep in mind: that this is one of the best public universities and they should be grateful and take advantage of
things. I didnt have as hard of a major as the STEM people, so I had more time for extracurricular activities.
Like I was on the executive board for the Rifle and Pistol Club. It was something I loved. Im passionate
about teaching people about safely using firearms. I played intramural sports every semester. And of course,
ROTC. I wouldnt be in college if it werent for ROTC. I always wanted a job that I felt would affect lives
personally, one-on-one. I would probably be a policeman or a firefighter if I couldnt be in the military.
Kit: They constantly tell you, if youre a bad person you wont be a good officer. You affect more people than
you think. Over four years, the random acquaintances, tons of different people even if you dont say
anything to a person they notice you in some way. Like people see me in uniform on Wednesdays. I try to
preach carrying that with pride and professionalism. One of the things that was a change for me was Ive
been doing well at ROTC. I never thought of myself as the kind of person to rub it in peoples faces, but I
would talk about it. I didnt realize that people took it in a bad way. And junior year, halfway through, Id
been with most of my ROTC class for over two years, and we had peer reviews. I sat down with my captain
and my sergeant and they had they had a printed list. They said These are the major things that the other
people in your class are saying about you. It was a big eye-opening moment for me. I do care about peoples
perception of me. I took it to heart.

I didnt realize that ROTC had peer reviews. That concept is very interesting.

Kit: Yeah, its tough. Very tough atmosphere. A lot of people, it takes them and puts them in the right place.
But Ive also seen it take people and pushes them towards almost a sociopathic place. Just a handful of
people, maybe they take it too hard and put on this act where they separate personal and professional. Which
you do have to do to some extent. Class rank does matter. But the conclusion I came to was that there are so
many checks in the military to weed out those people that you shouldnt worry about that. Things all fall into
place And Ill be training for about a year and a half or two years to become a helicopter pilot. It was a
long and stressful journey but it all worked out.

You were talking earlier about having these connections to people, and potentially losing that when you graduate. Can you
elaborate on that?

Kit: Its going to be a hard thing for me because of distance. And theres only so many people you can really
be close to. Going from a tiny high school in North Carolina to the university was a culture shock. Ive met
so many people, made great connections. Id like to keep up with those people, but circumstances kind of

Even within college. And now it will be a hundred times harder.

Kit: One of the little blessings is that my best friend at ROTC - weve been together at Carolina since literally
day one - is doing aviation with me. But not everything falls into place perfectly, because I go off in
November and he goes off in June. Hes going to be a lot farther along than I am. But yeah, I look back and
Im like, damn. I cant keep up with everybody.
Activism with Destinee Grove

Where did you go to high school?

Destinee: Scotland High School in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

Did you grow up around there too?

Yeah. You could say Im a Carolina girl.

Elaborate on the scare quotes?

I just think its an interesting term. When you think of a Carolina girl, you think of a southern belle. And I
dont identify with that at all. I was born, raised and have done my first four years of college here. But I dont
really identify with Southern politics. The racism and sexism thats rampant in Southern politicians. Not that
all Southern politicians subscribe to those views, but theres a strong history But I was raised between two
farms. I do subscribe to Southern hospitality. So all in all Im a Southern girl but sometimes I feel real
disillusioned with the South.

When you got back to UNC after going abroad, did you do some things differently?

Yes and no. I like to think that I dont make deliberate choices. Im a big believer in life pointing you in the
right direction. Its not that that I did anything differently, but I was steered differently. There were lessons
that I learned about how I consume news, how I view my civic duties, or how I feel as a person of the
African Diaspora in America.

So speaking of civic duties, how do you see yourself as a North Carolinian, if you do, and has the university shaped that?

As a North Carolinian, its hard, because state government seems used to seem so elusive. Back in freshman
year, or senior year of high school, I didnt know who our governor was, or what I could do to well I did, it
was Bev Purdue or what that had to do with me. Since coming here Ive become a lot more politically
active. Not so much wanting to run for office but just being aware of how to educate yourself to be a good
voter, how to vote, how to register others to vote, how our actual North Carolina General Assembly works,
and the importance of local politics, which is something a lot of people ignore.

It seems like a lot of the time, the answer to political problems is activity. Activity wins.

Yeah, and being there with the people.

There is definitely political activity on this campus. That said, I often feel like there are outside forces political appointments to
the Board of Governors, Margaret Spellings, funding choices, that are opposed
Opposed to what we do. Yeah. I was just talking to someone from the ACLU yesterday about how coalitions
are formed. Because there are so many people at UNC who want the same goal, but dont want to work
together. People arent just picking their heads up and saying This person does what I want to do. Lets
make something together. They dont need to do something by themselves.

Anything specific that made you notice that?

Like with the Hurston Hall initiative. A lot of it was the Silent Sam Coalition. But other people, the NAACP,
the Black Student Initiative, people in the Geography department, also wanted to rename the building. But
because there was never a united front amongst all of those people I dont think the voice was as strong as it
could have been. It was definitely present, but very scattered.

Theres a lot of individualism among young people on this campus. Like we are the people that werent here before, therefore we
have to do us at a hundred miles an hour.

Theres a lot of I need to do everything, and people need to know that I do everything. A couple years ago
Marc Lamont Hill came to UNC and said Everyone needs to stop trying to be the President and Vice
President of something, stop creating something so that they can lead it. Joining a great existing organization
as a regular member and working your way up is a great thing and something that I think people need to do
more. [The alternative] is not a sustainable way to create change.

Another challenge is to keep that activism and engagement going after you graduate. Do you ever wonder whether youll be able to
keep your passion and drive for socially beneficial work going after college?

I dont ever worry about the passion. The passion will always be there because there will always be issues that
need to be addressed. Sometimes I think about the struggle of what it means to be I want to be a research
scientist. Thats a very demanding job. Being able to balance my career with my social activism efforts. I think
the balance will be easy because the passion is so strong. And Im moving to Philly after graduation. Its kind
of the northern black Mecca, and Ive been involved with NAACP for over a decade now, so I feel like it
wont be that hard. But its easy to get spread thin, and to think that you have to get spread thin, and If Im
not struggling Im not succeeding. But you can succeed, you can fly, you can swim and you can excel, and
you dont have to feel that overwhelming pressure.

Yeah, thats thats a good point. (laughing) Im going to write that one down.