Moving Forward – Marissa Wu

The “makeover” is probably one of the most recognizable television tropes. Character A is hopelessly average and awkward, but all it takes is a brand-new wardrobe, an entourage of stylists, and a pep talk to reveal their true inner stardom. The person who enters is totally transformed by the time they leave. And we love seeing it. But what really happens after the protagonist saunters offscreen, shiny fresh blowout glistening in the wind, and steps back into the mundane routines of daily life? 

This is the same question I’ve been asking myself. Of course, in my case, there was no four-hour overhaul of my entire appearance, personality, and confidence. But, there’s no denying that the past eight weeks have been transformative. I can measure my growth through the newfound ease I have in talking to strangers, the friends and acquaintances I’ve made, my growing writing portfolio, my familiarity with the metro. Business formal is almost second skin. But even as I list the ways in which the Hill has become home, I’m unconvinced— can I unlearn a lifetime of habits in two months? How much of what I’ve learned here can I retain when I’m gone? 

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about this exact topic, both with other program interns and with friends from back home. I confided my doubts in my own ability to preserve the motivation I feel right now, and my fears about what losing that momentum would entail. I don’t want things to go back to how they were; I want to hold onto the changes that this experience has inscribed on me.  

The truth is, when I’m packing up my suitcases, there are just some things I can’t bring back to California with me. For one, time— being a full-time student, while working part-time, while also serving as VP of UC Berkeley’s immigration clinic, will definitely leave me less freedom to attend events and grab coffee with people I want to get to know, a luxury I’ve had here. Secondly, people— being surrounded by people who are 100% supportive, want to see me succeed, and share the experience of existing in the world as a young queer person is something I will miss very much. Third, the entire city itself— it has been truly heavenly to be in an environment so entrenched in politics, but I need to remember that the rest of the U.S. doesn’t geek out over Congressmembers and binge C-SPAN the same way. 

As I change my title from a Victory intern to an alum, I already know that I will miss this experience so much. I’m sure that I will be tested by the stress and challenges brought on by the next academic year, and I’m sure that I cannot completely translate my behaviors and experience in D.C. back to the Bay. But I’m also sure that I will realize I’ve grown in ways I didn’t notice when I’m facing familiar situations, and better equipped to handle them. Above all, I know the network of friends I’ve made here will still be there for me, even while scattered across the country. 

Maybe a more realistic makeover scene would play out like this: Character A enters the frame. Through a nurturing group of friends, an incredible internship opportunity, and maybe a new blouse and a pair of slacks, they emerge a little more capable and sure of themselves. They still face the same struggles as before, but they get better at dealing with them. Little victories build up to bigger ones. And maybe, after many years, changes are truly internalized and made permanent. But transformation is continuous, never really over. 

Being in this program was the start of my own transformation. From here on out, it’s up to me. But thanks to Victory, I know I’ll always have people growing with me and cheering me on.