The College Interview Series: Pomona College

Location: Claremont, CA. Acceptance Rate: 8%. Graduation Rate: 94%. Student Interviewed: Grace Li.

Interviewer: What’s name and where are you from?

Grace: My name is Grace Li and I’m from Midland, Michigan. Most of my childhood memories are from here but after elementary school, everything is in Saginaw or Bloomfield Hills. Whenever people ask me where I’m from, I usually say that I’m from a small town in Michigan but I went to school further away.

Interviewer: What year are you in your education?

Grace: I’m in my 13th year.

Interviewer: What’s your major/prospective major?

Grace: I met this girl named Maya Man. She’s a developer at Google and she’s part of their Fivers Program (Google selects 5 people and they can basically work on whatever they want). She uses computer science as a new medium to create. Right now, I plan to double major in media studies and computer science. I want to use media to inspire and figure out myself and use computer science to express that. Long before that, I was wildly undecided. I suffer from shiny object syndrome and I try everything. Once, I bought an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil and within the two week period before I had to return it, I taught myself how to animate. I also like storytelling and people. Anyway, this is all a tentative plan.

Interviewer: Tell me about a book that has stuck with you throughout your life.

Grace: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I read this during my junior year when I had a really jaded view on life. I felt that everyone was the same in terms of the fact that we are all governed by the same gods of emotion. I was getting into the same conversations with the same people who reacted the same way. This book is the story of four guys. It’s a simple story but the care that the author put into detailing these guys so extensively reminded me that people aren’t all the same. We’re each different in our own way.

Interviewer: Tell me about a film that has stuck with you.

Grace: Call Me by Your Name. I don’t know why I watched it so many times. I have such a short attention span and I can usually watch a movie in 30 minutes because of all the skipping that I do. This movie reminds me of a summer thing that I once had. The madness in that relationship and in this movie aren’t sustainable.

Interviewer: Who’s your celebrity crush?

Grace: Nico the Duffer and Evan Mock. They’re skateboarders. Evan Mock is the kind of person you would be insecure over in middle school. I also like Timothée Chalamet but he’s not as big for me as he used to be.

Interviewer: If you could do anything in the world and have the means to do it, what would it be?

Grace: I would take the all the time I want with all the people that I love.

Interviewer: Do you have any weird talents?

Grace: Yes.

Interviewer: Are you currently binge-watching anything?

Grace: No. I don’t binge watch. I have no attention span. I’ve been watching What I Eat in a Day (Vegan) videos and skateboarding videos.

Interviewer: Do you live on campus or off campus? (If so, do you like it?)

Grace: I used to live on-campus before the coronavirus evicted us. I lived in South Campus dorms. I loved it socially. My hall has sponsor groups (12-20 people you do your first year activities with). I was very close with the people in mine. I’m not going to start talking like a college brochure but I really enjoyed myself.

Interviewer: Why Pomona?

Grace: I first discovered Pomona from my high school English teacher, Julie Kang. She was the first Asian teacher that I had. She graduated from Pomona and recommended that I apply. I applied to a bunch of fly-in programs and loved Pomona. Despite knowing it was where I wanted to be, I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket and I didn’t want to make a decision before I had all the decisions. It ended up being a tie between a few schools, including Pomona. I loved LA in terms of location and I loved the weather, the metropolitan area, and all the hiking. There’s a few surrounding schools so Pomona doesn’t feel very small.

Interviewer: What was your first impression of Pomona?

Grace: I’m going to extend this question to the whole year. I had a first week, first month, and first year realization when I thought of Pomona. I thought each of these would last but it didn’t. At first, I compared it a lot to my high school and based on how I acted my freshman year at a boarding school and tried to use this to dispel any expectations. In terms of college brochure things, Pomona does a lot. There’s outdoor adventures, backpacking, and other activities. There’s so much energy in the school. I did dislike the friend shopping that occurred and I was missing home a lot. I noticed that people come into college with the mindset of wanting to reinvent themselves and I didn’t come in like that. I was more or less very comfortable with myself and interacting with people who were insecure in their newer selves was hard.. I went home whenever I could. Each time I came back, I would have that same adjustment period. When I was at Pomona, I would miss Michigan and when I was in Michigan, I would miss Pomona. I didn’t know who, what, or where was home anymore. In high school, there’s a lot of people trying to stand out but also wanting to fit in. In college, we begin to feel like we finally have the power to be something special but none of us are ready for it. We know just as little as we did before. My beginning was fine but I struggled internally.

Interviewer: What was that greatest challenge that you faced when you arrived on campus?

Grace: My first semester was deeply undercut by breaking up with someone. It wasn’t toxic but we both missed each other and this time was about me trying not to talk to or think about him. I think I missed having people who understood me in silence. I didn’t know what grounded me. Whenever I wanted to feel like myself, I went to the city alone. I did this a lot. There was one moment in particular that stood out to me as a time where I felt most like myself during this time. One day, back in October, I was stranded in Los Angeles after I missed the last train back to Pomona. I contacted a random girl that I had known from high school and asked her if I could come to USC (University of Southern California). She was out but I connected with her roommate who helped me get into the building. There wasn’t room for me to stay in their dorm room and I wanted to give her privacy, so I went out into the girls’ lounge to sleep. That was full so I went up to the guys’ lounge. In the lounge, I met these guys and started talking to them. One of them gave me a brick to protect myself with but we ended up talking the entire time. It’s crazy because I actually ended up on the same flight back to Michigan with one of the guys because he was visiting his girlfriend, we became friends on that flight. Overall, this experience allowed me to feel most like myself because I got to walk around the world and talk to people. Life finally felt like my own adventure again, not the adventure that someone else or some schedule was trying to give me.

Interviewer: What’s something that you love about your school?

Grace: Most people will probably give an answer like “the people they’ve met”, but when I think about this question, I think about the reasons that I love a place. The first reason is the physical location. I loved my high school because I had the chance to walk around and be free. I love Pomona at night or when I’m riding my skateboard with my friend in a parking garage. I love when it’s after lunch and we’re the quad with the hummingbirds. It always feels like the first day of spring when everything is warming up and then you look at your phone and it’s actually February. The concept of time doesn’t feel so physical in southern California. The second reason is the people. I love my friends. I don’t know if that’s necessarily because of Pomona. These people are deeper than the projection of Pomona’s reputation. When I meet these people, it’s like I love them for who they are and not because we all go to Pomona.

Interviewer: What do you think about college classes?

Grace: I went to a college prep high school. The same things that Pomona advertises are the same things that my high school had. In high school, some people weren’t interested in the classes but my teachers were amazing. College is what you make out of it. I think that you can definitely just sit there and get a grade. But college classes almost feel fake to me. Learning is not just within a classroom. College offers a lot of tools and I’ve been learning what hasn’t been taught to me before. I’m learning Arabic and it’s a challenge but it’s something that I couldn’t do before. I forget that college is for education because for those applying, it’s advertised as an experience. I feel like I didn’t necessarily choose this for the education, but rather for the fact that this is where I want to be as I decide what I want to do. I’m being fed the same things as other people, but I’m not able to explain what or how these things impact what I’m doing with my life. I don’t want to see what I’m doing with a degree but rather what I’m doing every day.

Interviewer: What’s the atmosphere like at your college?

Grace: The weather is amazing. The pollutants are dangerous for at risk communities. It’s sunny but toxic and poisonous. It feels like a daydream. There are beautiful sunsets. In terms of people, it feels like high school but bigger. People have more freedom to dress and express themselves the way they want. It’s very laid back. Stress culture isn’t big at all.

Interviewer: So far, what’s your best memory at college?

Grace: I don’t like this question. I don’t catalog things like that. I have a lot of best memories. I’ve also photographed a lot of the things I love most. (Check out her archives account here)

Interviewer: Have you experienced something that has changed your perception of your goals?

Grace: I spent so much of my winter and second semester studying how my peers express themselves. I began learning more about this part of the college industry and I learned about how connections get people places. It’s less about how good your art is and more about who you know. I went to art shows and I would meet people who complimented me and I found a lot of people I connected with. But, I also realized how much social climbing there is. Sometimes, there’s no real personal growth, just development and advertising of your art. I can’t decide how I would prefer to be recognized. Do I want the personally underdeveloped but social climbing way or the way that people know what I create but don’t know my face and those who really know my name must truly love my work? I thought maybe I would want to be famous because I want to be around really creative people, but it really is what you see crafted on social media accounts and that makes me wary.

Interviewer: What is something you would still like to try at your school?

Grace: My friends and I have been talking about a hypothetical bucket list. One thing on the list is streaking naked across the quad. It’s more about what I do with my friends and not so much anything at the school.

Interviewer: What’s something you wish you could change about your school?

Grace: Institutionally, Pomona does well. I wish the art resources were more accessible to people outside the art majors. Once, I wanted to use the darkroom and the school wasn’t receptive to this idea because I’m not in the major or in any classes. I also wanted to start an art magazine within the 5Cs (Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, and Pitzer) so that I could interact with writers, fashion enthusiasts, and photographers. That all being said, I think that to only complain about the accessibility of arts resources means that this school is doing pretty good.

Interviewer: What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself so far about your time at Pomona?

Grace: All you have is yourself in a lot of ways. I realize this primarily when I travel between California and Michigan. It was just me and my red backpack against the world. I also learned that friendships shouldn’t just be what happened when you were in close proximity with each other. I also learned that some new friendships are mostly just convenience and coincidence. I think that friendships are hard, to keep in contact with someone is one thing, but to create new memories with someone is hard when you’re not with them. I realize that I am loved and have a lot to give. It’s a nice feeling.

Interviewer: Tell me about the traditions at your school that you’ve had the chance to participate in?

Grace: If it’s a tradition that the tour guide says, then it’s less a tradition and more of a selling point. Pomona has one called fountaining which entails throwing people into a fountain on their birthdays. It’s a selling point to make the school seem quirky. The best traditions are the ones you have with your friends.

Interviewer: What advice do you have for anyone who would like to attend your school in the future?

Grace: Skate fast, eat ass.

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