Alumni Post: Olive is the New Me

by Gongga Baerde

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“Hi Gongga! This is … from the Tufts elections commission. I just wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS! You have a seat on the Senate class of 2020.” I was sitting at Tisch, just got kicked out from the reading room and getting ready to enter again when I saw this message. I could not believe what I just read it, because this seemed so surreal that I just won the election. It was a mixture of feelings that suddenly overwhelmed me. I wanted to tell all my friends who supported me through this race that I’m thankful for their support. I also just wanted to run around and express my joy.

I have always wanted to run for the student government since I arrived in the U.S. because that was something I always had done in China. I stopped doing it here, because I suddenly felt insecure about my skills and unconfident about myself in social places due to my “limited English.”  I was always scared of speaking out for what I wanted because I didn’t want my poor accent to betray my “Asian American Identity.” It was easier to stay silent than to speak somehow. I know now that this way of life is not what I’m looking for.

It became better for me when my English improved closer to my peers’ level,  enabling me to speak my opinions or ask the questions that I have in my mind. I became more open toward running for student government. However, my introverted personality was a really big barrier because high school elections were more like popularity contests. I hated talking to people about myself, because I was afraid I was not good enough. I never had the courage to tell my high school classmates that I wanted to run for student government.

Participating in Tufts 1+4 opened myself onto a new level – I started to challenge myself, from little things to bigger projects. I enjoyed traveling alone even when it meant getting lost 10 times a day, and asking an average 20 people for help. There were ups and downs when I traveled alone. I remember how I was alone on New Year’s Eve and walked hours and hours when nothing was open, in the popular city Seville that was famous for its warm attitude toward people; I remember how I ran 17 miles straight along beaches in Malaga on my birthday; I remember how I missed my plane to Berlin and had to take a 13 hour bus from Brussels to Berlin on Christmas’ Eve; I remember hiking the tallest mountain El Teide in Spain.

The idea of running for Tufts student government grew in my head over my gap year, because I started to realize how short and fast time goes. I wanted to take advantage of my time at Tufts, and to challenge myself. I started to tell my close friends that I made in 1+4, and my BLAST friends that I met at Tufts during the summer, that I’m going to run for the senate. I was scared, nervous and super shy about running, and I was not sure how to open the topic to my friends. I worried that they would laugh at me, because of how inexperienced I am. Their reactions were super supportive and gave me the courage to try.

Creating the poster for my campaign was also like creating a new identity for me, because I used “Olive” instead of “Gongga”. Many people often question me why I named myself as “Olive.” Sometimes I would just joke “because I loved to eat olives when I was in Spain.” This was partially true, but I also wanted to give myself a new identity before coming to Tufts. I wanted Olive to be the person that I became in Spain – a brave girl who was willing to try anything, who had a spontaneous personality and was willing to live life in the moment, an open minded girl who was outgoing and made friends all over the world. I let the old serious Gongga go, and I decided to let the internal Olive shine.

I remembered the day when I almost decided to give up on running because I saw how serious and prepared people were about their campaigns on Facebook. All those professional pages with hundreds of likes and details about their campaign ideas made me just want to quit ASAP. However, I still decided to make a page and even a campaign video. The video was a success, everyone laughed at how “funny”, and “genuine” it was. I think the video showed people that I really want to share my love and passion toward the senate.

Two days before election day, and I had to attend the candidate campaign forum. I was so nervous about the forum, I did not know how to present my platforms and introduce myself to all the students. However, finishing up the forum, when students walked up to me telling me how funny and cute I was, it made me feel relaxed. It also encouraged me that maybe I do have a shot, maybe college is different from high school, and I should bring the Olive attitude to college. I should give myself a new chance and try with enthusiasm.

One day before election day, I started to tell more friends, random people who were freshman, people I met in the gym and cafeteria about me running for the senate. I started to act more naturally, and felt more confident about my race. I even showed my campaign video in my English class.

This is the end of the third week of college. I’m still confused and occasionally feel unmotivated. However, now I have an obligation at Tufts – I have to work hard so the students who voted will not have a reason to regret their decision. Winning this election is not like a happy ending for my time at Tufts; it is more like a tough beginning. I believe that I am and will be ready. I will make Tufts my home and begin a new future here.

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