The most recent Legend of Korra episodes completely blew me away, because I wasn’t expecting the complete story to the creation of the Avatar. Most fantasy stories never go that far back in time to tell you how stuff began, so it’s really cool how the writers chose to do that. Basically, Avatar Wan starts out as an ordinary peasant who steals food from rich people in order to feed himself and his friends. In his time, all cities were built upon the backs of giant Lion Turtles, who kept the humans safe from spirits (and Lion Turtles were a feature in Aang’s storyline too, so it isn’t a new thing the writers pulled out of their asses to explain something in the past, which I think is super creative of them). I didn’t exactly catch why, but the episode may have mentioned why spirits were living on Earth in the first place (since they have their own separate world). But in any case humans and spirits were distrustful of one another and as a result humans could only survive on the backs of lion turtles (how whimsical). 

Whenever humans needed to exit the city to hunt and gather food, their lion turtle would grant them the power of an element. It seems like every lion turtle is a master of a particular element, so that the humans living on that particular lion turtle would be granted that particular power. In Wan’s case, his turtle could grant them the power of fire. Once the people returned to the city, however, they had to give their power back to the lion turtle. Wan hatches a plan to pretend to go hunting in order to get the power of fire from the lion turtle, but instead uses it to ambush the rich douchebags and steal their food. In doing so he is caught and banished from the city forever, but the lion turtle allows him to keep his power so that he might stand a chance of surviving in the forest (where the wild spirits are). 

At this point I find it strange that humans didn’t try to “steal” the power of the elements more often. But I suppose one could argue that, since all cities were on the backs of lion turtles, and since each city thought they were the only human-populated place in the world (Wan is the first human to learn from the spirits that other lion turtles exist), there was no desire of one human population to “conquer” the other, and so people didn’t really have a need for extra power. And also if you stole the power from the lion turtle, it might just throw you off its back and force you to survive on your own, which would be a bad thing. 

So anyway, Wan goes of into the wilderness and has several near-death experiences before he finally wins the affection of the spirits by saving a cat-deer caught in a man-made booby trap. His selflessness and respect for nature causes him to befriend several spirits, and with their help he becomes a master of fire bending. Once he becomes strong enough, he takes off on the back of the cat-deer he saved (so the very first Avatar also had an animal companion!!!) to find other lion-turtles. 

After a long journey, Wan and his cat-deer finally encounter some more humans—humans who have the power of air!! However, at the same time he also encounters two large spirits fighting with one another, and is tricked into freeing this red-black colored spirit from the white-blue one. The red-black spirit is called Vaatu and the white-blue one Raava. Raava is the spirit of light/good and Vaatu is the spirit of darkness/evil, and in freeing Vaatu Wan essentially unleashed chaos unto the world. Initially Raava is a real bitch about it and mistrusts Wan, but soon it becomes obvious that the only way to defeat Vaatu is for Wan and Raava to join forces. Raava helps Wan travel to other lion turtles and master all four elements, and soon the time comes for the two to battle Vaatu. 

The battle takes place at the portals to the spirit world, and there’s this thing called “Harmonic Convergence” that happens every 10,000 years when the planets align in just the right way that the portals (there are two) conjoin. Not really sure what any of that means, but Wan is able to use the power from the portals (he sticks his hand into the portal and magically gains power) to defeat Vaatu. More specifically, Raava entered Wan’s body so that they could combine their powers. However, spirits normally can’t possess a human’s body for long because it would kill them. Somehow by sticking his hand in the portal, Wan permanently bound Raava’s spirit to himself, and they both gained in strength, allowing him to defeat Vaatu. The act of binding the spirit of light to himself is essentially the moment when the “Avatar” is created. 

After defeating the evil spirit, Wan locks Vaatu permanently away in the spirit world, and also returns the rest of the spirit world back to their home as well. He alone becomes the bridge between the spirit and the human world. The lion turtles, sensing that the world has come to a change, decide to stop giving humans the power of the elements since they wouldn’t be threatened by the presence of spirits anymore.

Then we see that several decades later, Wan is an old man and dying, and his last words are an apology to Raava for being unable to defeat all the darkness in the world (he is literally dying wounded on a battlefield). Raava tells him not to worry, for they will be “together for all [his] lifetimes”, and that they “will never give up”. How romantic, right?!?! 

So I guess now that the spirit of light is bounded to a human, it can only continue to exist within a human, which leads to the reincarnation cycle of the Avatar. Of course this logic is a little shady, because there’s no reason that Raava can’t just “exit” Wan’s body once he’s dead and live once more as an independent entity. But whatever.

I am really satisfied with this little odyssey on the origins of the first ever avatar. It is filled with fantasy and whim and humor and epic adventures, and it really made a lot of sense too. The “Avatar” is the combined entity of spirit and man, and it did not magically exist from the beginning of time, it CAME into existence through the cooperation between a single spirit and a single human who had to work together for a common goal. That’s a really nice and inspiring tale that really justifies the existence of the avatar. 

It is also very interesting that all “modern day” benders initially derived their powers from lion-turtles (I wonder how lion turtles learned to bend?). I guess when the lion turtles stopped giving humans powers, the humans who retained their powers could pass it onto their offspring (another shady piece of logic), thus continuing the population of benders.

I read this very interesting theory online of what will now happen in the remainder of the Legend of Korra. The person hypothesizes that Unalaq, who we know from two episodes ago has entered the spirit world since Korra opened the portal for him, had come across an imprisoned Vaatu and might be trying to help him, so that perhaps there will be the creation of a “dark avatar”. Since the current avatar is essentially the reincarnation of Raava’s spirit, the combination of Unalaq and Vaatu’s spirit might create a dark avatar. 

I honestly think that’s a terrible idea. First of all it’s cliche. Second, it’s almost too “intense” for me, because the avatar is already preoccupied trying to get humans to get their act together that I can’t imagine the avatar ALSO trying to fend off an evil version of him/herself. What I hope will happen is that Korra manages to lock up the portal before Unalaq wreaks anymore havoc, and that that will be the conclusion to Book 2 of the Legend of Korra. Book 2 is titled “spirits”, which implies that book 3 will have less of an emphasis on this spirit stuff. So I’m really just hoping for a clean ending to this spirit mess. I’d really rather not see this spirit stuff leading into the bigger mess of the creation of an evil avatar, because honestly the idea of a character foil of pure evil is a little cliched to me. I hate this idea of this “permanent” evil, because then the storyline becomes too predictable. No matter what the good avatar does, the bad avatar will always be the invincible opponent that the good avatar can only temporarily defeat. Once the good avatar foils the evil avatar’s plans, 5 episodes later the evil avatar will wreak more havoc and there will be another confrontation. It’s like how in Pokemon Team Rocket shows up to do something annoying in every episode and you’re like, “oh great it’s this scene again”. I really don’t want the Legend of Korra to go down this road…

So anyway, Avatar Wan is really cool, and I hope that future episodes will talk about Lion Turtles more because they’re really cool too. (Also I hope that eventually the writers will explain how bison learned to fly/bend air themselves…? Did they also get the power from lion turtles?). 

I’m really impressed by Obama’s unexpected and personal remarks to the White House about his thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict. This case is clearly one that’s touched him very personally, and it was so nice to see him honestly express a little bit of the anger that he feels. Presidents are always too busy talking about economics or foreign policy, etc, etc, that it’s completely rare for them to bring out a personal side. 

Maybe the death of a black teenager isn’t as big a deal as the war in the middle east, but on a personal, human level this is a case that resonates with Obama, and whereas other politicians might ignore it and focus on the “more important President-of-America-duties”, Obama decided he would say something. It’s so nice to see that politicians remember to be human sometimes! Though compared to Hillary Clinton and John McCain, Obama always seemed to have a more human side in a politician’s world. That’s why I liked him more than the others, anyway.

But I just wanted to say that this statement from Obama’s speech applies to my own life right now:

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.”

According to the 2012 Census Bureau, Philly is 44.3% Black, so living in Philly is an entirely different feeling from living in Cupertino. The community right outside University City is a lot poorer, and I’ve met a number of suspicious looking people on the streets (of all different races). But if there’s one thing I’ve refused to do, it’s being, and in particularly, showing that I’m afraid. 

Why should I be afraid of these people just because they walk and act a certain way that’s different from what I’m used to? We come from completely different worlds. Maybe they have “bad” habits, but that doesn’t have to mean they’re bad people. Both my parents have commented that I need to be careful when taking the Septa because there are so many sketchy looking people on it. But I’ve NEVER felt threatened. If you don’t bother anyone, there’s no reason to assume that they’d bother you. The extend of people “bothering” me is begging for money, but they beg everyone around them for money and are honestly not at all rude if you refuse to offer. 

Sometimes when it’s late at night and I’m walking alone in the dark and someone is approaching me from the opposite direction on the sidewalk, of course I feel more alert. And the way the person is dressed and the way he/she looks is directly proportional to how anxious I feel. But these are feelings I keep to myself, because I know that every person has a natural inclination toward self-preservation, and I know that my feelings aren’t a rational basis upon which to actually judge others. 

In fact, just recently when my dad was visiting for a weekend, the two of us were sitting downtown across the street from City Hall cuz it was nice outside and my dad wanted to observe the city for a while. One Hispanic guy approached me, and about 10 minutes later another one came up to me as well, and both were just asking about whether or not I knew the bus was coming (I don’t know anything about Philly buses unfortunately). But my dad asked me later what they wanted, obviously insinuating that they had asked me something more inappropriate, but they weren’t! What if they were two Chinese men?? Or white men? He would have thought differently then. And how embarrassing would it have been if I’d clutched my cell-phone more tightly or reacted nervously when they approached me? Of course I felt slightly suspicious since it was very dark out, but I literally forced myself from reacting since I knew it could be so hurtful if I allowed my irrational instincts to guide my behavior. 

In other words, I would never actually associate a suspicious looking person with a criminal before they’ve even done anything to prove they’re a criminal. I wouldn’t point to my friend and talk about how criminal-like that suspicious person in the distance is. I wouldn’t think anything except that it’s dark outside and naturally I feel afraid. But some people don’t realize that, and instead they let their feelings control their thoughts and skew their logic so that they start to assign concrete adjectives to an entire community of people who don’t deserve them. 

Obama also said: “Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naïve about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. ”

That’s a very insightful statement. It’s true that black communities are common locations of violence, but maybe that’s because in a way those communities aren’t expected by the rest of American society to “succeed” in the way that other communities do. 

More Obama statements: “And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — you know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation.”

I think that’s my favorite statement of his, because I think it’s true that black communities still seem to be somehow disconnected from the rest of the country. I think self-perception tends to lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy, and I think it’s true that this country is continuing to send subtle signs to black communities that they don’t belong in the forefront. Whether it be deep-rooted historical prejudices or rash associations of certain adjectives with the black community, there are still so many problems, and both sides are to blame. 

I’m very upset with the verdict, because even if Zimmerman were at one point “in danger”, he voluntarily placed himself in that situation by stalking a teenager in the night with a gun. I seriously think that if the situation were reversed, Martin would have been found guilty in a heartbeat. It’s hard to think that the reality would be otherwise.  And like Obama said, “ if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws”.

My Letter:

Dear Dr. Strang,

I am a soon-to-be junior student majoring in physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and I just wanted to write you a thank-you note for your brilliant 18.06 linear algebra lectures! A physics professor here recommended that I watch them to gear up for quantum mechanics next semester, and I’m so glad I took his advice. Through my experiences in previous physics and math classes, I’ve come across nearly all the concepts you mentioned in the lectures, but no one ever explained these basic concepts in such a clear, intuitive way. Previously linear algebra was just this tool I sort of understood, but your lectures revealed their true value and brought all the fragmented pieces of knowledge in my head together into a single picture. 

I am also deeply touched by the “humility” with which you presented the subject. I had a professor similar to you the second semester of my freshman year when I took calculus honors, which was my first “theoretical” math experience. I thought the class would be so difficult, but the professor didn’t care for jargon or linger in abstract proofs—to him math is an intuitive subject and ought to be presented that way. 

Unfortunately the next semester when I took abstract algebra, I had a professor who didn’t care that he was obfuscating students by mumbling through proof after proof. Proofs are obviously important because they give math the solid framework that its known for, but proofs usually only make sense in hindsight after you have a better appreciation for the motivation behind a certain definition/concept. I actually find that a lot of math professors are like this, that math is so wonderful and logical and “easy” (at least they make it appear so) for them that they sort of stick up their noses and wonder why their students aren’t hungry and crazy for proofs. 

Hence I am truly appreciative that you don’t approach math education that way. I think the way you present math brings justice to the field because it actually reveals what makes math an elegant subject, as opposed to people like my algebra professor who make it seem alien and confusing. 

This was a rather long thank-you note, but I wanted you to know that students like me are really benefitting from what you’ve done!

Tingting Gong
University of Pennsylvania ‘15”

And his gracious response:

"Thank you for such a nice message !   And well written.

    I am happy that you found the lectures and you liked them.

Yes, some professors can’t get rigor out of the way of ideas.

If you stick to ideas you will do well   Best wishes in all your work

                  Gilbert Strang”

I am very thankful for his response!

Since I’ve been fangirling like I’ve never fangirled before, I deem it sufficiently necessary to dedicate an entire blog entry to why I stand so firmly behind Michelle, and I hope that people can read it and start familiarizing themselves with her music, and more importantly, vote for her to win on Monday night! (Link here:

The Voice season 4 has literally taken over my life for the past week ever since I started listening to and watching Michelle Chamuel’s performances on youtube. Then I started to listen to the music her band plays and fell in love with their electronic pop style. Then I started watching her performances on repeat (can’t figure out a physics problem? Is history reading boring me lately? Am I just bored in general? Time to watch Michelle Chamuel! How I managed to get anything done the past week remains a mystery to me). In other words, my appreciation for her has been on a “permanent crescendo” (to borrow the praise Shakira gave Michelle after her performance of Cydni Lauper’s Time After Time) this past week. 

To most people the title of the show is called “The Voice” because it’s meant to discover people with, well, amazing voices. So naturally the contestants have incredible, powerful, belchy, window-shattering vocal abilities. But amongst all the rather equally-matched talents, Michelle stands out because she has more than a beautiful voice, for she has the infectious spirit of someone who has had to fight to find the strength of her own voice.

She’s definitely geeky, a bit awkward, and extremely different in how she carries herself. Not to mention that she’s lesbian which automatically marks her as different in this prejudiced society (ashamed to remember Prop 8, California?) But she doesn’t dwell on these issues either (she’s never talked about her sexuality on the show, people just know because we stalk the internet and discover interviews from 2010…). She doesn’t have a mission to prove anything to anyone—all of her quirks are just part of who she is and it inevitably comes across in her performances. 

In a recent interview she was asked how she managed to voice her opinions to someone with as much clout as Usher (who is her coach on the show), and she said that it came from years of not being able to express herself to her bandmates and consequently having to sing in styles she didn’t want. She also took several years to get over stage fright, previously confining her singing to private spaces. And she’s known serious setbacks too, having tried out and failed TWICE to make it on the Voice before season 4. 

During the show’s elimination episodes, the host Carson Daly asks some of the singers questions before announcing the next singers to be saved (the contestants who get to advance are announced little by little throughout the duration of the episode). In one episode he asks Michelle “In the past you’ve said that you never quite fit in. But you’ve made it this far in this competition. What does that mean to you?”

Michelle responds, “Well I guess I realize that maybe fitting in wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but more so that people would be able to accept me and love me for who I was.”

And that genuine desire to be herself and to connect what’s real inside her with what’s real inside others shines through in every performance she gives. All that fist pumping and squatting and facial expressions might look awkward and overly theatrical on others, but with Michelle it’s all natural. Every bit of it is a manifestation of her infusing every piece of herself into what she’s singing. Music helps her express herself, it’s her means of connection to the rest of the world, it REALLY means something to her, and consequently I feel all of that too. 

When she sings Raise Your Glass I feel happy and want to jump up and down and act foolish. When she sings Somewhere Only We Know I feel nostalgic for something precious that’s been lost. When she sings Grenade (a song I never really liked) I feel the hurt of betrayal. When she sings Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble, firstly I am utterly impressed by the rock spin she puts on a rather generic pop-song, and secondly I feel anger toward whoever has been giving me trouble. When she sings Just Give Me A Reason I feel the longing to mend a broken relationship. And when she sings True Colors (my favorite of hers) I feel empowered by who I am despite all the times I doubted the quality and worth of my own voice.

People like her make people like me feel like I matter. What can be more powerful and deeply moving than that? 

Most of my life I’ve never had the courage to pursue anything that required people to pay attention to me. I studied hard in school partly because it was the right thing to do, and partly because it was the only thing I felt I could do. All the thinking required in homework is done in the privacy of my own mind, no one else has to hear about it. The grading of my homework and exams are done in the privacy of the teacher’s mind, I don’t have to know about it except for the score I get. Academics is a sense of personal fulfillment, of self-motivated endurance, and the one thing I knew I could be good at. 

It isn’t that I don’t like academics, the reality is very much to the contrary. But I’m always struck by how hard it is for me to do anything else. The annual piano exams and recitals were literally heart attacks for me; I can’t even remember how many times I’ve cried over a performance that could have gone better if I hadn’t been so damn nervous. I hated sports because that meant inheriting the pressure called teamwork, in which I might screw up and let everyone down. The very idea of drama/theater never crossed my mind; it’s like I was born knowing such a thing was an impossibility for me.

English class was always the most painful because I hated having to speak up. I still remember the two D’s in participation I got in McMillion’s lit honors since we were graded literally on how many times we raised our hands during discussion. It wasn’t that I hadn’t read the material or that I didn’t have thoughts, but it was just so hard to compete with people whose hands were always the first to be raised. It also didn’t help that all the outspoken (i.e. “popular”) kids took lit honors and lit AP, and they aren’t the kind of people who would help me feel comfortable in my own shoes. Physics AP was the opposite of that—everyone was nerdy and quietly did their problem sets and we weren’t required to participate or anything like that. Looking back on high school, auditioning for wind ensemble was probably the bravest thing I did throughout all four years. 

But it isn’t that I don’t have anything to say or that I don’t love a good fight. I think my problem is actually the contrary—that I have too many opinions and too much to say and that I should try holding myself in more. In private I’m not a shy person at all, but in larger settings I come off as diffident and quiet. Meanwhile everyone is having a blast getting to know each other and cracking jokes and enjoying the company of friends as well as strangers, and I’m just sitting there second guessing everything I say and I end up feeling powerless and overwhelmed. 

Maybe that’s why I even joined a sorority my 2nd semester freshman year, to prove that I could be different. Well it didn’t work out because I quit the following semester since the commitment to a group like that was more stressful than it was fun, and I preferred sticking to the environment I knew. 

But I don’t blame myself for that, because I think I may have pushed myself too hard. I draw energy from smaller, quieter spaces and I’ve learned to appreciate myself for that. But the inability to effectively communicate stings me constantly in life, and the fact that I’ve declared so many endeavors impossible before I ever tried them is something I’ll always regret. 

If a friend is making you feel miserable, you don’t have to remain friends with that person. If a task is feeling impossible, you can always turn your attention to something else. If your car gets stolen, you can always buy another one. In other words, when something external is negatively impacting your life, you can always run away from it (even if that’s not the most courageous thing to do). But what do you do when the greatest obstacle in life is yourself? How can you run away from what you are? Well the obvious answer is that you can’t. 

So to watch Michelle literally explode on the stage every week is such an incredible and refreshing experience for me. Here’s someone whose greatest struggle in life is with herself, and who was able to overcome that to chase after her dreams in such a huge way. And through it all, she’ll remain exactly the person she’s always been. 

Inevitably she’s won my heart, because she represents people like me and the things we wish we could be. When America votes for her to advance, I feel like a little part of me has won too because I gain a bit of confidence that the world is willing to accept all kinds of voices and all kinds of people. So in my heart I forgive myself a little for all the times I couldn’t stand up to the louder kids in my class or all the times I felt estranged from a group. Maybe I couldn’t do it, but look, someone else is and people love her for it! That is, to me, the most amazing thing to watch happen on national television. It fills me with energy and optimism to see that authenticity is ultimately the quality that people value most, not looks or attention-seekers or anything like that. 

The other singers are nothing compared to Michelle. The other contestants in the final 3 are both country singers, and one of them is a 16 year old girl from Texas with a big voice. She’s talented, no doubt, but she has no emotion and sings the same simplistic country song week after week (her coach could do a better job, but it’s like he’s taking care of his young talent and doesn’t want to push her too hard by asking her to sing—omg— a song that’s not country). I simply feel nothing when she sings. People are just taken by the fact that she’s young and innocent, but she strikes me as someone who barely had to struggle with anything and is there because she was born gifted and is merely going along with this ride that’s been readily paved for her. Not to mention that she sounds LITERALLY like a mini-less experienced-Carrie-Underwood. The music industry does not need more of the same exact thing. Danielle right now has no individuality, so I really think she needs a few more years to develop some maturity so that she can figure out what music actually means to her, and then maybe she can sing more thoughtfully and insightfully. 

As for the Swon Brothers, they’re good at what they do (pleasing country fans), but are otherwise pretty forgettable. 

So on Monday night at 10 PM, I hope with all my heart that America will take the time and vote for Michelle. Her winning means not only that people want to hear more of her voice, but also the voice of those she represents. People who have a hard time believing in their voice, people who constantly lose sight of their voice, people who don’t even realize they have a voice. Like Usher said, Michelle is truly “medicine for the world”, for her being on the show has indubitably given hope to everyone who has had difficulty reconciling themselves with the world they live in. 

People might be sad or disappointed if Danielle/The Swon Bros don’t win, but I think people’s hearts will genuinely break if Michelle isn’t crowned the winner (including mine…).


@Usher: This is your stage, this is your moment. Take charge. #4eyesontheprize

I’m starting to realize how ingrained I am at Penn after two years. I honestly don’t even want to go home at all anymore, since after a couple days I’m guaranteed to be bored to tears. There are of course friends and family that I miss on the west coast, but the prospect of mingling with them in Cupertino is just not at all enticing. If they were to come to the east coast or if we were to collectively go somewhere away from home for vacation, then I would be really excited. But there is honestly nothing to do in Cupertino and the truth is that I don’t miss it much anymore.

But even as for the people, I feel that the ones I’ve met at Penn are more important to me. I wonder if it’s just because of the peculiar situation under which we’ve bonded (college away from home is so different from commuting to and from school every day)…it’s not even that I feel “closer” to these people per se, it just seems that they’ve shaped my life more. Their impact on who I am is greater. 

Collectively, all the students I’ve met have just become a part of my community and consequently a part of my life here. In college I’ve constructed a whole new life for myself, one disparate from that of Cupertino, and when you grow increasingly aware of your new surroundings, it slowly becomes an integral part of your routine. For example, it was flat out weird having my mom here during the weekend before reading days. As happy as I was to see her, her presence made it feel too much like Cupertino-world was encroaching upon Philadelphia-world. The two being completely distinct entities, their mixing gave me a feeling of unease. After the first day I got used to it and greatly appreciated my mom being around to cook for me and just be a moral support in what was the calm before a very, very big storm (the longest, most difficult finals week I have heretofore known). 

But at the same time it makes you realize how permanent the disconnect between you and your old acquaintances are. They simply haven’t been part of one of the most integral moments of your life. College forces people to challenge themselves, question themselves, ultimately change themselves. Concurrently your high school friends are busy doing their own changing half way around the country. How do you even tell each other about how much you both have changed? For these changes are subtle and impossible to measure in precise terminology. I mean, I’m just so much more knowledgable about so many more things now. In the past year I’ve gotten to know more peers and mentors who have all in some way impacted my life. How do you communicate these subtle differences about yourself to someone else who hasn’t at all been a part of your experience?

That’s why I find it so hard to leave Penn. I don’t like leaving my new comfort zone and forcing myself back into a world that doesn’t really suit me anymore. It’s like forcing a shape into a puzzle that doesn’t fit. It’s not that I’m actually “so different”, in fact I don’t even notice how much I’ve grown until I go back home and realize how much I dislike being away from college. It’s only when I leave Penn do I realize how much I’ve become ingrained here, how much my life has changed from what it was before. 

I can’t imagine not being at Penn. I can’t imagine not knowing the people I’ve known, and when I say something melodramatic like that I’m definitely talking about the professors (whom I know I talk about over and over again…). Profesors are just such amazing people…they’re possibly the only adults besides family who unselfishly take an interest in your wellbeing. I honestly feel that the professors I’ve met care for their students to succeed, and they truly cultivate curiosity in those with an honest desire to understand. I feel that the professors here sort of “take you under their wing”. 

My own dad is extremely smart and successful in everything he does, but he never really cared to share with me any of his knowledge. We lived under the same roof for 18 years but we never really had an honest conservation. Ours was a bland coexistence. I wish he told me about the things he did so that I could at least judge whether or not I was interested in them. I think his interests in life is something I could appreciate, and yet he never did anything to make me look up to him. It’s a pity because I could have admired him very much if he let me. 

At Penn I’ve met mentors more kind, more patient, more understanding, and more giving than my own dad. How amazing and deeply humbling has this experience been? If people like Mele, despite their raw intelligence and hard-earned success, are to be so kind, then normal people look really stupid having egos. 

Amy Gutmann did manage to say one right thing at the closing lines of the Commencement ceremony this morning, and that was thanking the faculty for the difference they’ve made at Penn and the difference they’ve made in all the students’ lives. Gutmann blabbed a lot in her earlier speech (the one at the beginning of Commencement) about the importance of service and using knowledge to give back to the community, but I didn’t really appreciate that because she made it sound like service had to be some dramatic gesture where one embarks on a mission with the clear intent to better the life of someone else. Well, I don’t think Dr. Mele or Dr. Lubensky or any other kind professor are chanting “service to the community” in their minds when it comes to every decision they make. They are merely scholars devoted to what they do and who want to encourage others to do the same. Their patience and generosity stem from a love of knowledge and a dedication to their art. And also they are just really kind people. 

I just don’t like grand gestures. Amy Gutmann’s speech was all about grandeur and the beautiful ideal that is “service to the community”. Honestly, the professors I’ve met meet that ideal and more without giving a conscious shit about it, and that’s how it should be done, because that’s what it means to be genuinely compassionate.

I just find Gutmann superficial and fake. Whatever. Don’t care about her or the 7 figure salary she earns.

Anyway, I totally derailed from the main point by the end of this entry, but now I’m too tired to salvage a suitable ending. Off to bed now…I have to wake up for the 9 am Vagelos meeting tomorrow….too early….


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(Source: teen-titanz)


Obama’s one-liners during his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner. 

(Source: humorstop)

I originally was indifferent toward going to this dinner because I hadn’t gotten very much sleep this week and wanted to take a nap instead of attending, but it was actually more fun than it was last year! First of all it was a nice room in Houston Hall, and second of all I just thought all the professors were so nice to mingle with us. Well actually there was only one professor seated at our table, but lots of other professors were going around talking to the various students at the various tables, and I thought they were all so nice for doing that. Everyone looked like actually wanted to be here. Haha.

Also Roy and Diana Vagelos are such sweet old people!!!!! Though my friend pointed out that they’re rich, so I guess they have no justifiable reason to be cynical. And both of them have been in the public’s eye enough to be good at doing this mingling type thing, but it sounded like they genuinely cared about our futures. They are spending millions funding this program after all.

The Vagelos couple and Ponzy and Saven (program directors) were all very open to taking pictures with groups of students afterward as well. I can’t believe how nice all these people are, and I’m so glad to be a young person in a position to absorb their wisdom. Actually I was amused to see Saven talking to a bunch of freshmen girls, because he’s kind of socially awkward. 

Anyway, Dr. Vagelos remarked at our table how a single professor could really impact your life, and when he said that I thought of Mele. Of all the people I’ve met at Penn, I certainly look up to him the most. First, he’s one of the most accomplished scientists at Penn, but more importantly, he takes every part of his job seriously. Dr. Rappe (the professor initially sitting at our table) said he was surprised that Mele rewrites notes to every lecture despite having taught E&M for 5 consecutive years, as Dr. Rappe himself reuses his own notes (“I’m not ashamed to admit that”, Rappe said). You can definitely tell that Mele’s carefully written every lecture to be rigorous and meaningful, and the way he talks about things differs a lot from how the textbook talks about things, so his lectures are original and crafted from the way he himself understands this material. 

His problem sets and exams are also impeccably written, too! He does assign the bulk of the problems from the textbook, but every problem set has a few challenge problems that he carefully chose or wrote himself. I feel like those problems practically define this class, because that’s where you get to struggle some more to really understand something. 

But THE BEST PART is how productive it is to discuss homework problems with Mele. Whereas discussing problems with other professors can be kind of a pain due to their lack of ability to effectively explain or pinpoint the root of your confusion, a few exchange of words with Mele can easily disentangle the mess in your brain. Talking with him is just always so much fun! He also has a surprisingly whimsical sense of humor, which you don’t initially expect from someone who is incredibly serious.

The most amazing thing is that Mele doesn’t do all of this for the students per se, he really does it for himself. He’s the kind of rigorous person who takes great responsibility in everything he does, so I don’t think he could forgive himself for half-assing any kind of job. And of course he loves the physics too. I really admire him for that kind of work ethic, and consequently as a student I have absolute faith in everything that he does.

I can’t wait for the end of my college career when graduation comes so that I can shake his hand and thank him for being the best role model any student could be lucky enough to meet at the most impressionable period of his/her life. I’d like to tell him just how much he means to me.

So yeah, today’s dinner just made me so thankful for being at Penn. I am getting a great education, but it would mean so much less without the people I’ve met in it. Generous role models are so important to have, because without them the pursuit of knowledge would be such a lonely endeavor. With them, it feels like a cooperative thing. Knowledge is, after all, something that is meant to be shared. When Mele takes time out of his research to spend half an hour talking about physics with his students, I honestly feel that it’s the common journey of discovery that brings all of us together, no matter our differences in age or race or experience. I remember Freeman Dyson saying that in some diplomatic conference he attended, all the scientists were productively chatting and exchanging knowledge while all the politicians avoided each other suspiciously and got hardly anything done. There really is something to be said of people who spend their lives pursuing answers to questions unrelated to the often superficial struggles of humanity. 

From the bottom of my heart I really want to think all the people (not just Mele) who have honestly changed my life and worldview. Penn has become as important as Cupertino is to me, although I may have only been here for two years.

But I’m sad I’ll never get to know Dr. Vagelos beyond just a few exchanges every year for just four years. He’ll probably die soon anyway, though he very spry for his age. I hope he continues on that way!