Yooni K. Park ’22-’23 does not totally know why she was nominated for this.
She hails from Lexington, Massachusetts; it’s not like she went far from home. She loved music in high school, and she loves music now. She’s always been a little introverted, and she’s always been focused on her studies — she’s been a Computer Science kid since freshman year, though she just added a joint in Psychology.
She certainly has changed. Compared to high school, she’s more comfortable trying new things and meeting new people. She’s learned how to ask questions and how to apologize. She’s embarrassed herself in Computer Science office hours. She’s tried dance and creative writing. She moved in with a blocking group of people she didn’t know too well, and she’s been through at least one significant breakup (if you saw her at Yardfest last year, no you didn’t). But has she changed the most of the entire senior class?
“I think at my core I’m still the same person,” she tells me, sitting with her legs crossed on a piano bench in one of the music rooms near the Dunster Grille. She looks polished, wearing an oversized white button-down and flowy black pants.
Park started college like many: with a little excitement, a little stress, a bit of imposter syndrome, and a lot of uncertainty about what she wanted to study. In freshman year, she was overwhelmed by comp culture, which made it hard to enjoy school. “Everyone would be comping 20 clubs. And I would be like, ‘oh, I don’t want to be interested in those things,’” Park recalls. “Am I supposed to be interested in those things?” She was completely uninterested in pre-professional anything at the time; she didn’t even know what consulting was.
She didn’t want to do chorus anymore, either. She’d made some friends, primarily with other Korean freshmen, but nevertheless found herself living the age-old blocking group nightmare: she thought she had a group, turns out she didn’t, and she ended up having to scramble to find something else. She wasn’t feeling so sure about CS, her imposter syndrome was intensifying, and burnout started to creep in. Park decided to take a year off.
“[When] I came back, we got kicked off campus,” Park says. She had the same thought as the rest of us: “Why is this happening?”
Luckily, Park was able to find some solace in picking up old hobbies during her extended time away from campus, and she didn’t mind the virtual flow of things. She found a loving support system through her friends and joined The Wave, Harvard’s pan-Asian literary magazine. Creative writing had been an outlet for her since middle school, though this was the first time she had published something in college; it wasn’t until then that she realized its true potential for emotional catharsis and connection. She tells me about a friend of hers whom she didn’t click with until they realized they shared a passion for writing. And you didn’t hear it from me, but she now has a secret blog for her poetry which she only shares with her closest friends.
Over the years, Park has called a lot of different people “blockmates,” but she didn’t find her people until her junior year. She knew she had incompatible habits with some of the people she’d lived with before, and at the urging of a mutual friend, she joined another housing group with some people she knew only vaguely. “I was honestly taking a gamble,” she says.
In the beginning, it seemed the chips were down. Immediately upon moving in, her new suitemates launched into a 24-hour argument about who would get the rooms with the river views. “I was like ‘oh my gosh, these people are so dramatic over windows.’”
But uher new roommates eventually apologized, swearing they weren’t usually like this. Ultimately, “it ended up working really well,” she says. “It turned out that they were the most unproblematic, caring group of people who are there for each other no matter what and always hang out, supporting each other through sickness and stress and boy drama.”
Park expresses near-boundless gratitude for her friends over the course of our conversation. She had been introduced to one of her new suitemates first through a mutual friend — a “you guys will really get along” moment. “We had very high expectations of each other, but the conversation was just very awkward because we weren’t able to find anything in common. Both of us were just like, ‘oh, I don’t understand why he said that we would get along,’” she says. One day, coming back from lunch, they realized neither of them wanted to go back and do work quite yet. They found themselves on a familiar path along the Charles.
“We started on Memorial Drive and walked in a straight line for a while. Neither of us are very good at directions.” During that long walk, they found they had a lot to say to each other. To this day, Park is touched by her friend’s spontaneity, flexibility, and openness. “That’s a friend I really respect.”
Overall, Park’s journey has been more of a full circle than a complete transformation. She attributes most of her growth to the comfort and advice of her friends. She’s become more confident, more self-aware, more extroverted, more compassionate. She talks about emotional maturity a lot — “I learned gradually and a bit too slowly,” she says with a laugh.
Park’s proudest moment of college came this semester. In freshman year, she had decided she didn’t want to pursue chorus at Harvard after singing and playing violin for most of her life, but she realized just how much she’d been missing it when she saw her friend perform with the Radcliffe Choral Society last spring. She ended up trying out, got in, and performed a solo at the RCS fall concert. She sings a few bars for me in the music room, her soft soprano filling the space. She’s always loved performing, but had never had a solo before.
“It gives me a chance to share an experience with other people,” she says. “I enjoy that we all start on the same breath, and we all end together.”
—Associate Magazine Editor Maya M. F. Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.