Mrinalini Wadhwa

Class of 2020

1. Do you have any specific memories with this senior class that you would like to share?

Many memories come to mind! I am remembering the wonderful AES ‘21 students I had the chance to work with during my tenure in Make A Difference, the Service Council, and MUN, as an upperclassman in high school; some wonderful MESAC Badminton memories, including doubles games from our abbreviated season in the Spring of 2020; our whole group bonding during long hikes and photography sessions during the 2018 Minicourse trip to Ladakh; even our middle-school MUN trips to Kuala Lumpur, back in 2015, which seem like a whole different era nowadays. I really can’t believe this senior class is already graduating!

2. What advice would you give rising college freshmen?

I couldn’t say anything here completely ignoring the context in which AES ‘21 is graduating, as a public health and humanitarian crisis unfolds in Delhi and across India with COVID, and, on a more specific note, which I wish could have not so closely resembled our graduation last year in its virtual format. It might be very hard to believe in this now—I know it was hard for many of us, myself included, last spring—but your AES community still has your back, even if you’re graduating into this chaotic and uncertain world, and things can, and will, get better. So check in with friends, classmates, and teachers, see how people are doing, and reach out if you need help—they will be there for you, even if right now it can’t be in-person. Writing from outside India right now, I also just sincerely hope everyone is as safe as possible and that the COVID relief efforts across Delhi soon prove to be effective.

Amidst all of this, everyone has undoubtedly worked hard to finish this difficult last year of high school and apply to college, and I hope some of this advice will help try and make the most of that. I’ll put two things here:

  • If a classmate (or professor!) says something that you find really fascinating or insightful in class, or if you hear about someone who sounds like they’re doing amazing work, reach out to them and tell them that! Ask them more about themselves and what they’re interested in! People love to talk about their interests and passions, and you might make a best friend—or find a supportive mentor—that way. These moments should never make you doubt your place in college. You worked to get to where you are, and bring your own lived experiences and skills to class that add value, just as this other person did; what good would it do to be in a class where you knew everything everyone was saying already, anyway?

  • Advocate for yourself. Academically, this could mean asking questions at the end of a lecture for content that wasn’t clear, going to your professors’ and Teaching Assistants’ office hours (this is a big one!!), or reaching out to classmates to form a study group. I say this especially for any lecture class, like intro-level STEM lectures — this will help make sure you aren’t lost in a sea of people trying to “beat the curve,” and are actually understanding class material and doing your best work. Beyond academics, look for niche opportunities your school has to offer! There are many things that can slip by if you aren’t looking for them—fellowships, guest talks, smaller student groups, internship funding, studying abroad, partner universities, etc. Reach out to advisors or professors who run these programs, or upperclassmen who have been through them, and ask about how these are run! You might find yourself doing something rewarding a year from now that you didn’t even know existed when you applied to that college.

3. What's the biggest difference you've found between college and AES?

As you’d expect, there are many! It obviously depends on where you go to college, but something I really love is the balance between familiarity and collegiality (which you can get by taking classes/doing research in smaller academic departments and in student groups), and the chance to meet new people and find new passions and interests (which you get by trying new things in a larger university setting).

It’s also a lot more self-directed in college than in high school! There’s less actual time you spend in class, and fewer, longer, more substantial assignments that make up your semester grade. This could mean that you take that extra time that you’re not in class to go ask your professor questions in office hours, find ways to connect your paper topic to issues you’re passionate about, or spend time reviewing your problem set with friends. It also could (and should!) mean that if you’re having a rough week, you just take some of that time off, to go outside, catch up with friends and family, or even just get extra sleep—trusting that taking care of your well-being is so important, especially with long-term papers and psets that you need to space out to give yourself breaks. So essentially, while college is probably as fast paced as high school was, there are definitely many weeks when you have control of the pace, because you know when things are due well in advance; you can use that to make sure you do what’s most meaningful and interesting to you.