What I learned from student club rejections

By KEIDAI LEE | October 3, 2019

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EDA INCEKARA/PHOTO EDITOR

Lee, a sophomore who transferred to Hopkins, reflects upon the experience of applying and being rejected from student groups.

“Why does this damn school make us apply for clubs, anyways?” I thought to myself. The systematic, pre-professional style of going about extracurriculars felt both foreign and stifling. Shouldn’t these activities be fun? And maybe, a little bad. But definitely fun, right? Bad fun isn’t allowed here, I guess. It’s understandable. Bad fun is now for dimly lit Friday nights and frat parties.

I was zero for five in club applications. It was starting to look like I would have to list being a leader in my YouTube recommendations algorithm as my sole Hopkins extracurricular activity on my resume. Great, I got into Hopkins, and all I have to show for it is... Hopkins.

“It can’t just end this way,” I thought to myself. “There has to be another way.”

I reopened my laptop. I saw that I had marked a good handful of other clubs’ emails. It made me realize that apparently, I have other interests as well.

As a first-year community college transfer sophomore, one thing that amazes me about Hopkins, in contrast to the resources of my previous institution and high school, is the sheer abundance of opportunities. I felt like I had already considered a mountain of clubs, but it turns out that it was nothing but a hill.

There is a club for everything here. Starting a new one doesn’t seem impossible, either. It used to be that my old environment’s limitations would stop me (to a degree) from further refining and discovering my passions. But now, only discouragement could accomplish the same result. 

Pathetic. I wasn’t going to let discouragement win.

As a result, I decided to go to three on-campus resume workshops during the following week. One was general, one was corporate focused and one had a departmental and personal focus. Each was one hour long. It sounds like a lot, but it was three hours I would have wasted away on YouTube anyways. And no one has ever taken the time to concisely give me advice on my resume. 

No one has ever sat down by my side for even 15 minutes to make the simple life-changing corrections necessary to better present myself on paper. No one — not my non-English speaking parents, nor past teachers or advisors — could have ever helped me condense my strange life. 

Suddenly, I was ready to promptly submit away my tailored resumes for any club application — a reality I never could have imagined for myself even a few weeks ago, before I officially started my time at Hopkins. But which clubs should I send them to?

I texted my friend Kia. She told me that maybe my not getting into the clubs I wanted wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Now, I had more time to put towards the clubs that I might like better. In fact, she felt that other clubs might fit me better. She saw other parts of my personality that I didn’t even see in myself. She saw that some other clubs — though they might not be exactly what I had wanted — might turn out better for me in the end.

Magically, I decided to listen to her. Apparently, friends are important, especially for moments like these.

I remember when I used to read applications for a TEDx event back home. Being a part of my community’s TEDx committee led me to realize that we had to turn down applications for non-personal reasons all the time. Sometimes, it was because there were too many people of a certain category. 

Other times, it was more so about us, and how the applicant’s abilities just didn’t fit what we could work with — even if they were extremely talented in a certain area. Sometimes, applicants saw parts of themselves that we could not see in them. Now that I was facing rejection at Hopkins, I had to keep subjectivity in the back of my mind as I continued to search for other clubs and auditions. 

Over the last few weeks, I applied to every single organization I thought I would even maybe consider being in. I applied to organizations I wasn’t 100 percent sure about. Maybe something would surprise me. Maybe I didn’t know myself as well as I had originally thought. Maybe I could be good in a way that they’re just not looking for, at least not right now.

As much as I want to hate it, the club interviews and application process were good practice anyway, especially as I went to the career fairs in the following weeks. I heard the resume workshop presenter’s voice in my head: Remember, they’re not just gauging you. You’re also gauging them, seeing if you would like being with them as well.

I guess my efforts weren’t all for nothing.

And I’m not just saying that in light of the nine club, research and internship acceptances (and a few more rejections) staring back at me in my inbox a few weeks later.

***

One day, as I finished up my lunch at the FFC, I saw one of the student leaders of a club that I was rejected from. I didn’t say hi because she didn’t seem to want to say hi, either. I could imagine why she might not want to acknowledge me. 

And suddenly, to my surprise, she came up to me. 

At first, we said what typical club leaders and rejected applicants say to each other: nothing. Our conversation danced a bit in silence, waiting, then suddenly wanting to speak, then waiting again, until one of us spoke.

Her words were a bit of a blur. My skepticism and my insecurity tidally pushed and pulled my mind in waves. She said something about the performance not being the last of their shows. She said something about the group doing many shows a year. She said something about an incredible — unbelievably incredible — talent pool this year.

She paused for half a millisecond too long, and I knew she was searching for words once again. I wondered whether her choice to speak to me was driven by her actually liking my audition, or by a need to comfort me. I felt the tides of her intention, once pushing, now pulling. And so I gave some words to help her out: “Ah. That... that means a lot. Thank you so much.”

I smiled. She smiled.

This next silence draped differently on my shoulders — it did not hold me as if I was fragile, as if I was not good enough. Instead, it invited me into its embrace. In its arms, I wondered about all the words she could and could not say, would and would not say. 

I wanted to believe that I knew what she meant.

Keidai Lee is a transfer sophomore majoring in Computer Science and Philosophy and minoring in Psychology. He transferred from Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. 

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