My First Year at Pomona: Seven Things I’m Grateful For

By Becky Zhang ‘22


A few days ago, my best friend (who took Intro to Psychology and had many a fun fact to share with me throughout the semester) shared that gratitude was an effective remedy for all sorts of maladies. She dropped some statistics on the scientifically-proven benefits of practicing gratitude: an extra half-hour of sleep, and so on. Whether or not this will grant me a healthier circadian rhythm, as the school year draws to a close, I want to reflect on some things and some people I’ve been blessed with in my first year at Pomona. While the last nine months have held both ups and downs, I’m thankful for the anchors that have kept me grounded and encouraged amidst waves of newness and uncertainty.

(1) OA: the best introduction to college in SoCal

faces of friends looking downI met some of my favorite people at Pomona within just a few days of moving in, but the time we spent together was over an hour away from campus – we were camping at San Clemente Beach for three days and two nights as part of our Beach Orientation Adventure (OA)! The trip was led by five friendly upperclassmen who were my first glimpse into the world of lovely Pomona people. Upon our arrival at the beach on the first day of OA, a fellow first-year and I dropped our bags on the sand and instantly made our way for the ocean. The cool waves pulled us in, eager and light, glistening with saltwater. That night we all sat on the dark shore, staring at the little stars above, avoiding the optical burn of smartphone flashlights, and marveling at the trains that hooted and rushed past us on the sand-covered tracks. It still feels a dream.

(2) The ISMP (international) community

ISMP mentorSpeaking of my favorite people at Pomona… as an international student, I was fortunate to have an exceptionally awesome ISMP (International Student Mentor Program) mentor from Ghana, who shared many interests with me (music, computer science, the constant desire to change her major completely) and was the warmest face on campus, exhibiting affable clout as she glided about on her scooter. Through ISMP, I got to meet a whole community of caring and inspiring people from all over the world, and ended up with a second, unofficial mentor from Shanghai, a caring soul and a go-to when I had questions about classes and where to find tasty Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley.

(3) Chaotically exploring my academic interests

Many will tell you that your first year of college is for exploring your academic interests and trying new things, and this is undoubtedly the way to do it – especially at a liberal arts college. What they don’t tell you, however, is the utter chaos that tends to descend as a result of this. The number of times I panic-called my sister or a friend to explain my most recent academic predicament (Humanities or STEM? Single or double major? Try out a new subject or fulfill my dreaded science requirement?) is honestly embarrassing. My friends at Pomona know, too, how quickly I switch from absolutely adoring one subject to questioning its moral/societal value, or even the validity of my own interest in it.

That all said, my constant state of academic disarray was fueled by routine bouts of inspiration, disappointment, frustration, and fascination – all necessary components, I’d argue, for a healthy and quintessentially liberal (meaning wide-ranging, not politically liberal) education. I was learning more than I ever had in high school about what I wanted, who I wanted to be, and how I might follow through with these goals. Moreover, I was surrounded by equally lost and passionate people, whose thoughts and ideas continuously taught me more about what it meant to be a student, to be a person. My classmates were curious and reassuring, my professors thoughtful and inspiring.

(4) Philosophical discussions with my roommate

With this sort of academic existentialism (pardon the term) came a whole string of reflecting on and questioning the many ideas I’d accepted at face value prior to college. I’m grateful to have had a roommate who not only taught me to express my individualism and to be kind to others, but with whom I also had so many meditative late-night talks, about everything from Brexit to family to the moral status of animals (the last one? …think about it).

(5) Long dinners at Harvey Mudd

dinner at Hoch-ShanahanThis list would be nothing without a shout-out to food at the 5Cs. Specifically, Harvey Mudd’s dining hall (the beloved Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons), my favorite place for dinner on campus. Sure, it was a whole 15-minute walk from my dorm on South Campus, but my friends and I ate there almost religiously, weekly Fridays and any other time we had the heart to make the trek up. The journey there was itself, as cliché as it sounds, part of the beauty of Hoch-Shanahan, and, once there, we took our sweet time having dinner: multiple courses and solid conversation, always followed by cereal and the occasional M&Ms.

(6) The Pacific and the pool

I don’t have to explain the climatic gift that is Southern California (earthquakes and drought aside), but I am especially grateful for the time that it allows for being outdoors, year-round. I grew up in a tropical city by an almost always-warm Pacific Ocean, so I’ve been thrilled to return to the pool and the sea again this past year.

(7) Music!

Soccer Mommy live
Soccer Mommy live

My first semester at Pomona saw a pivoting of my music taste toward alternative and indie women musicians, some of whom I was lucky to see perform in LA. Volunteering as a DJ for the college radio station allowed me to discover a new circle of bands that I now love, and free music lessons compelled me to properly and finally take up guitar. With more free time than in high school, I wrote original songs for the first time, prepared lengthier sets to perform around campus, and jammed out with friends. I’m grateful to have carried over and expanded my relationship with music in college.