The beginnings of a troublemaker

Growing up, I never fit in. My problem was not that I had no “thing” or niche but rather that I had too many. In first grade, my career goal was to become a mermaid. When my 6-year-old mind came to the grounding realization that I would never be able to grow a tail and frolic around in the sea, no matter how many hours I spent willing my body to form a tail, I decided that the next best option was to become a figure skater. By sixth grade, I had decided that figure skating might not be the most steady job choice, and I came to the logical conclusion that a “safer” career path was to become an astronaut. This passion to venture beyond the third planet drove me to apply to a magnet STEM high school — the California Academy of Mathematics and Science. As a ninth-grader, I determined that rather than being an astronaut, I would become an aerospace engineer —  I had learned that in order to become an astronaut, one had to be in the best physical shape possible, and I was struggling to pass the Pacer test. 

I thought I had finally arrived upon my perfect career choice, but that elation ended in my sophomore year of high school when I took AP Physics 1. My dream career as an aerospace engineer quickly lost momentum. My last hopes of pursuing a STEM-focused profession were lost in my junior year when I took chemistry. At this point, I felt like an unbalanced chemical equation: out of place and uncomfortable.

The discomfort and the intense difference in the person that I was and the person that I was meant to be was doubly heightened during this year — not just in my chemistry class, but also in my AP Seminar class, in which I partook in a classroom debate regarding the legalization of prostitution. At the time, my political ideologies had compelled me to decidedly be a proponent of legalized prostitution. My teacher, well aware of this, allocated my group to the defensive, which would require us to argue against legalization. I was furious, but quickly grew dejected; how could I present a speech that went against everything I believed in? I decided to contribute to the research but nothing more. When the teacher asked for volunteers to be speakers, however, my hand took action before my mind, and I raised my hand.

As the debate drew nearer, I slowly found myself questioning my previous beliefs on the topic. On the day of the argument, I clutched pages of notes in my sweaty hands as I walked up to deliver my prepared speech. I opened my mouth to begin my scripted speech, but my voice took action before my mind. My notes remained where I first set them down, crumpled yet untouched. I rammed through the opposition’s points, tearing them down, thereby unconsciously muddling the lines of my own beliefs. At the end of the debate, I paused to take a deep breath, my face red from exertion. 

When I looked up, I saw the inherent emotions that I felt conveyed upon my peers — they had begun to question their own morals and beliefs, as I had done at the beginning of the debate. By challenging my own ideas, I had allowed other students to do the same. 

This experience allowed me to understand that my career passions lie not in solving problems, but in conceiving them. My curiosity pushed me not to provide answers to questions, but instead to contribute additional questions as a troublemaker — someone who questions authority and pushes others to do the same. Over the next four years at UC Berkeley, I hope to find a way to translate my troublemaking tendencies into a career. As of now, I know that I still don’t fit into a specific specialized career, but maybe that’s the beauty of it all. No one really fits in, and this unifying characteristic is what makes the Berkeley community so unique. 

Contact Jenny Lee at[email protected].