Happy thesis-versary!

I was going to write a post re: Sheryl Sandberg and 'Lean In' since I had the chance to listen to her W50 speech last Friday at HBS (celebrating 50 years of women attending HBS). But since I got caught up finishing another book, I'm only starting 'Lean In' and will write that post next week--if I haven't finished that book by then, there's a problem since it's not that long and a pretty fast, straightforward read (not to mention, I'd say a good third of what I've already read was in her speech).

So Thursday marked one year of submitting that magnum opus that was my senior thesis. I go on Facebook and find it completely surreal to see pictures of my friends graduating this year holding their 9x12 black leather, gold embossed books that serve as testimony to their survival of the hardest experience at Princeton (or at the very least the hardest academic one). It feels like eons ago since I wrote and finished mine.

Whenever I try to remember the process of writing my thesis, only a few things come to mind:

1. Submitting it to the printer the Sunday before it was due (or technically the Monday, since I think it was 1 or 2 in the morning).

2. Two or three random nights at Starbucks where I'd crack through writing or editing a full chapter while peeing my brains out from the trenta iced teas I was drinking. (Side note: if you didn't know, you can order iced tea or iced coffee at Starbucks in a 31 oz cup. I imagine this is dangerous for those who like their iced coffee.) Luckily, I stuck to the caffeine-free Passion tea. I got my caffeine hits at Small World Coffee, since their cappuccinos were (expensive but) superior to anything in town. The only cappuccino challenger was the Little Chef, which was very well hidden but had delicious espresso drinks and pastries and was extremely cute. Problem? No evening hours.

3. The few days during Spring Break when TFC and I were in the carrel simultaneously for a substantial period of time and we went to Olives and had our little death locker stashed with triple-chocolate cookies, hummus, pesto tortellini, and whatever amazing special of the day was hanging out behind the class cases of this Greek-inspired, deli-caterer from heaven.

The story that's more meaningful with respect to my thesis is the one about my advisor. The first time I met the person who would be my main advisor for my thesis was my sophomore fall and I was trying to see if I could do an independent concentration in translation/intercultural communication (which exists only as a minor at Princeton, same as linguistics). I wanted to do something with Chinese, which I had started taking only a few months ago, and I think I had mentioned wanting to use Chinese primary source material in my thesis. He basically told me I couldn't do it, or that if I did, I'd have to spend two summers doing intensive work and then some, and I'd be lucky if that were still enough. My eyes were welling up for the full ten minutes of this conversation, and then I dashed to my individual session for CHI 101, crying on the way and my nose still running during my conversation session with the teacher. I carried around an "I'll show him...I'll show them all!" attitude with regard to getting good at Chinese for the rest of my time at college.

When the time came to find someone who could support the China half of my thesis, since the only person in the Comp Lit department who did some form of Chinese was chilling out at the humanities center at Stanford for the year, I was told I needed to find someone outside of the department, and a professor I trusted advised me to consult that professor whom I could only remember as "the one who made me cry." Having put off writing the email the entire time I was in Rio, I finally sat down to write it when I reached Wildwood for my final a cappella "beach week" warm up week. I got a reply the following morning around noon and had a meeting set up for when I returned to campus. He was an excellent advisor who really pushed me to go from good to great on the whole project. I don't think he remembered the "your Chinese won't be good enough to use the language in your thesis" conversation from two years before, but if he did, he certainly didn't doubt my abilities when it came to thesis research and implementation.

He did make me cry again, but that time, it had nothing to do with my Chinese. In fact, it was when the whole ordeal was over. Even though he was from a different department, he came to see my honors get announced at the Comp Lit Class Day reception the day before graduation. The whole journey I'd taken throughout college, culminating with this thesis that was well-written enough and used enough Chinese to win me a prize (scroll down for proof that I used to be academic and awesome), was incredible and overwhelming, and seeing my advisor, "the one who made me cry," in the Comp Lit audience to support me was really touching. When I think of my brightest, happiest moments from my college experience, this is the mental picture that shows up first, and even though I try not to get too caught up in memories, I let this one linger in my head a little longer. And then on days like these where I'm in situations that make me doubt myself (or at China forums that remind me how crusty my Chinese is and how hard I still need to work to make a successful career involving China), it reminds me to have a little more faith. After all, I like to hope I didn't trade in my potential for my diploma.