I may have mentioned on my blog once or twice before that I am a part of a four-year leadership program at UNC-Chapel Hill called North Carolina Fellows. There are no words for what this program means to me. Perhaps it will suffice to say that I would not be the same person if not for NC Fellows, that the people in this community have challenged my perspective on the world and helped me to gain a greater sense of self-awareness, that joining this program was the best decision I’ve ever made in college.
A few days ago, we lost someone who is and always will be an integral part of the Fellows community. Ovik Banerjee was a 2012 UNC-CH graduate, a Venture for America Fellow, a North Carolina Fellow, a true friend, a brother, a son and so much more. In NC Fellows, he served as a student director and a teaching assistant for the senior capstone course. He was always everywhere (but mainly the CLD office), and he was just so Fellowsy. Even after Ovik Banerjee graduated, his presence still lingered in the Carolina Leadership Development (CLD) office and in our seminar room. But Ovik’s impact doesn’t stop at Fellows – he was a priceless gem of UNC-Chapel Hill.
I’ve started a new blog post several times (each with its own headline and Daily Wings quote), but it wasn’t until multiple friends came up to me and said, “You haven’t updated your blog in a while,” that I realized my hiatus had to end.
Even though it’s already September, my mind is still stuck somewhere in July. This summer was supposed to be a chance for me to mentally catch up with the past three years of college and figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life. In the end, I only got busier.
Since the June 30th flood, which many Chapel Hillians are still recovering from to this day (including myself), I have completed summer school, an internship at Personify and a freelancing job with Raleigh Public Record. Thanks to the awful storm, the carpets and drywall in my apartment were all removed; for several weeks, I was forced to live in three different places, including a hotel as well as another house and flat where two of my friends were kind enough to let me stay. It’s hard to believe I hopped homes for nearly a month while still managing to drive 45 minutes to and from work every day after class. Despite everything, I’ve made it to my final fall semester of college.
A few weeks ago, my ethics professor forwarded to our class an article from The Daily Tar Heel about a new student organization that promotes disabilities awareness, Advocates for Carolina. I was so incredibly happy to hear that a group had been created for students who must find alternative ways to live, and joined without hesitation.
What I love most about UNC-Chapel Hill is that there’s something for everyone — a major, an organization, an outlet for self-expression. I felt welcome since the first day I arrived at Carolina; never before had I been a part of such an accepting community. In particular, North Carolina Fellows has taught me how to be comfortable with myself. I’ve learned that sharing my story doesn’t push people away; often, doing so brings me closer to them.
But as one of those students who has lived with the “disability” label for years, I’d always felt there was one other thing missing from my college experience: a space in which to share my story and learn from others in similar situations. Advocates for Carolina has filled this void. We emphasize on accessibility, advocacy and awareness. We seek to remove stigma, educate others about disabilities and provide each other with validation. Although we may live with different circumstances, this community reminds each of us that we aren’t alone.
At the end of every year since the beginning of college, I have written a letter to my older self. After freshman year was over, I wrote a note to my sophomore self highlighting some guidelines for having a successful semester. Here are a just a few lines I scribbled down as reminders to myself: