June: The Journey to Neverland

In honor of June, the start of seven week high school debate camps, here is an excerpt from my final assignment (a 5000+ word essay on friendship in high school debate) for my Experimental Essays class:

I have only one pinned text conversation, not with my mom or my dad, but with two girls I met at senior debate camp. As stressed college students, the conversation is usually quiet. However, every few weeks, I’ll get a stream of notifications:


Why can’t u all come to Taiwan so we can get lit ?!?’ 😫🥺🥺
I miss u all



we miss u more

uh also can someone help me with my math really fast

This is the sole chat with people I’ve met through debate that I still keep up with. For most others, leaving debate as part of our high school personas meant our chats desertified and staled, gradually buried underneath new college GroupMe and Slack notifications. But here was the difference with Kelly and Kristen: our bonds were rooted in a soil deeper than this activity.

I started talking to Kelly during the outdoor movie night in the first week of camp. Because our last names both start with P, we stood next to each other in the alphabetically arranged line. We quickly ditched the pointless small talk. One moment, we were trashing the all-male private school, only to find one of their debaters sitting right behind us. The next, I swerved the conversation down a dark alley: “My previous partner pulled a knife on me.” I was unraveling, pouring out everything this activity had thrown at me. Wide-eyed and mouth agape, she soaked in every word, occasionally hitting me playfully when she laughed.

On the other hand, talking to Kristen required me to muster up every ounce of my limited supply of extroversion. I’d debated her before, had lost, and knew she was good. She sat alone in the back of the room like an ice princess, face expressionless. Yet I saw something in her eyes that I was too familiar with—a yearning for a group to be a part of.

It took only a few days for Kristen to spill that she had taken interest in someone from the all-male private school I frequently mocked. Kelly and I swallowed the instinct to protest as we exchanged glances, eyebrows raised. What qualities did Kristen see in him? They had never even talked. Nonetheless, Kelly and I planned an elaborate matchmaking scheme and got the whole lab in on it. During research session, we all huddled on the other side of the library and spied on their conversation with the AirPods Live Listen feature. Our biggest takeaway: Kristen was too good for such a bland, dim-witted person.

The end of my last debate camp was like stepping out of Neverland. There would be no more hot summers spent in echoey college lecture rooms, Sunday morning museum tours, or sneaking into the better dining hall. I traded debate cases for college essays, went from proposing how the federal government could prevent a great power war with China to pondering how I’d someway made an impact in my mere seventeen years of existence.

I went from seeing Kelly and Kristen twelve hours a day to a few tournaments in the six-month long season. We survived on FaceTimes that strode across the Pacific Ocean. Kelly lived in Taiwan and she’d call us while drunk, her slurred speech like a broken audio playback that kept repeating, “I miss you all.” During the brutal college decision season, we called and cried, reaffirming each other that our worth went beyond a rejection or an acceptance.

When the pandemic first hit, no one expected it to last. We treated it as a much-needed spring break. But when a week bled into a month, and everyone had grown tired of updating elaborate group PowerPoint presentations about their days, people started to admit in hushed tones that we would have to get used to a “new normal.”

Part of this “new normal” entailed the end of casual friends and acquaintances, who Amanda Mull describes in The Atlantic as people we “could theoretically hang out with outdoors or see on videochat, but with whom those tools just don’t feel right.” These were the school friends who I’d chat with almost every day in person. Our conversations that had stretched across several school days ended like a telephone line cut before we could exchange goodbyes. The pandemic severed these loose ties created and sustained by physical proximity.

Close friendships adjusted as well. We no longer lived each other’s lives as they unfolded, instead shrinking our months down to a few hours as we retold them on socially distanced walks. But this was already the norm for Kristen, Kelly, and I; the nature of our friendship did not change. I have not seen them in over a year. Yet, whenever I talk to them, I’m transported back to camp—back to endless laughter, gossip sessions, and emotional rants. We don’t need aesthetic cafes or lavish shopping malls, just a phone and the internet. For us, time and space work differently.

A common saying among debaters is “You can take the debater out of debate, but you can’t take the debate out of the debater.” Since leaving the activity, its obvious marks on me slowly faded. My face has cleared, jargon no longer litters my everyday speech, the bills that guide U.S. arms sales policy slip from my memory. What you cannot take out is etched in the breath I take before expressing my frustration at a team member’s lack of participation—pause; you don’t know the battles they could be fighting. It is in the way I rush to open a notification from Kelly and Kristen, rainbow emojis flying from my fingertips. It is the tone of my voice when I meet someone new—prodding and treading carefully, aware that every interaction could lead to something bigger.

☀️ Sunscreen Rant

Medium-wavelength UVB is very biologically active but cannot penetrate beyond the superficial skin layers. It is responsible for delayed tanning and burning; in addition to these short-term effects it enhances skin ageing and significantly promotes the development of skin cancer. Most solar UVB is filtered by the atmosphere.

The relatively long-wavelength UVA accounts for approximately 95 per cent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. It can penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin and is responsible for the immediate tanning effect. Furthermore, it also contributes to skin ageing and wrinkling. For a long time it was thought that UVA could not cause any lasting damage. Recent studies strongly suggest that it may also enhance the development of skin cancers.

World Health Organization, Radiation: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation


  • We usually pay attention to SPF, which is the ability to block UVB rays. But what we should really worry about is PA, the ability to block UVA, since the atmosphere filters out a lot of UVB.
  • UVA penetrates indoors and even when its not sunny, so if you are in doors you should still apply broad spectrum sunscreen every day, but if you are outside you should wear PA+++ or PA++++ sunscreen.
  • You should reapply sunscreen every 3 hours for best effect. I use a sunscreen from SUNTIQUE, purchased through Costco.

Monthly Favorites

  • Book: The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students by Anthony Abraham Jack — a sociology book that exposes the ways in which selective colleges erase the nuance between the types of low-income students.
  • Article: “The Gatekeepers Who Get to Decide What Food Is ‘Disgusting‘” — At the Disgusting Food Museum, in Sweden, where visitors are served dishes such as fermented shark and stinky tofu, I felt both like a tourist and like one of the exhibits.
  • Youtube Channel: Ali Abdaal — high quality videos on productivity, wellness, and personal finance.
  • TV Show: Mare of Easttown — an American crime drama about a female detective who investigates a local murder.
  • Technology: Notion — an all-in-one workspace app for organizing your life (I finally made the migration, six months after I previously complained about the scattered tracking system, and it’s seriously life-saving).

💫 Recent Life Updates

  • I started my summer internships so life will be busier. During my few days of real break, I did a lot of DIY jewelry and phone charms and urban sketching.
  • One of my summer goals is to try every poke place in Bellevue—which wouldn’t have been hard five years ago but now there are so many options (Whole Foods so far has been the worst financially, with a measly portion size for $12).
  • I’m starting to dip my toes into investing with a few friends…more on that later.

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