Category Archives: Goals

A Badger Tradition

Football is a long-standing tradition for any college campus. Historically, a college football stadium exists as a sanctuary for students to unite under a single common goal: to kick the other team’s ass. And as a Big 10 (14) Conference Member school, this tradition was all the more important to the growing body UW alumni, students, and Wisconsin-born citizens.  Saturday, October 17th, 2015 I entered the ranks of the Wisconsin Badger football student section alumni. I jumped around, ate chips and fondue, did the wave, and cheered for the UW Badgers (and I actually did have fun, surprisingly). So as far as I could tell, the tradition hasn’t changed much. I will try and recount to you some of the observational notes I made during this particular field study of Homecoming 2015: Purdue vs. Wisconsin.

First, I should describe what a standard game day can look like to anyone that hasn’t had the opportunity/ever wanted to come close to attending a Badger football home game.V__D97C(1)

Badger Football group picture! Check.

For those of you wondering, Badger Game-Day was not just one day. Sure, the game might have been on Saturday, but UW football did not claim only one day of the week. Preparations were needed for this most holy of days. Some would travel for miles, determined to stand in the bleachers and emphatically cheer their favorite team whilst simultaneously jeering the opponents. Others were up last night stockpiling brats and alcohol for tomorrow’s crowd of Badger crazed fans that would flood the streets of Madison. I would normally be sleeping at this time, because it was the weekend and the only time that I had the option to sleep. But not this weekend. I would sacrifice one day to have an authentic Wisconsin Experience.

Brats. Beer. And football games. That is all we cared about in Wisconsin. And it was evident on Game Day. As a precursor to the game, the innumerable masses of die-hard Badger fans would eat brats and drink beer like it was life support. Every bite brought them life. Every drink made them livelier.  And their spirits would soar, each fan ready to embrace their inner Badger. They would slowly meander (drunkenly stumble) out of the pre-game parties and tailgate picnics and towards Camp Randall stadium as the clock ticked closer to start time. Every minute, more and more students would gather ready to witness the spectacle they had been waiting for all week. They were gathered by the masses, clad in the symbolic Badger red and channeling their thoughts into the only conceivable outcome for that day: the bombshell defeat of the opposing team. The crowds would chant and cheer and scream and it wouldn’t make a difference what noise we made because it was lost in the roar of the crowd. It didn’t matter what we said because we were all saying it. We were all there for one reason. We would play hard. And we would win. There wasn’t any other option.

“Brats. Beer. And football games. That is all we cared about in Wisconsin. And it was evident on Game Day.”

Before knowing all this, I struggled to find a compelling reason as for why I should attend a Badger football game. It just didn’t appeal to me. Every Saturday I would walk out into a sea of red, swimming against the current with my dark black & blue wardrobe. Purposeful opposition to the inexplicable phenomena occurring around me. I was immune to the solidarity of student body around me. Nothing could have swayed my decision at that point. But something changed this year. I wanted to experience something different, something new, something that I could only do as a UW-Madison student. So I thought I might try it this once. I would give the football game a shot.

And I am glad I did. And I am glad we won (24 – 7). But even if we didn’t win, there was something about standing in that massive crowd, so large that I felt insignificant. It wasn’t a time to be special or be different or be anything. We were just supposed to watch our team, rally hard, and have fun. It was about being a part of something (even if I really actually wasn’t because crowd-standing is not that inclusive and anyone else could have been there). It was about continuing a tradition. Without the support of the students, the game would not mean anything. Something that can bring 80,000+ people together had to be special. There was no doubting that. And it helped that we were victorious that day! I am glad that my friend extended her hand outward and asked me to be a true Badger. I came along with her that day blind to the spirit of the Wisconsin tradition, but I emerged with a new perspective of UW sports and what it means to be a Badger.

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Jeez Louise! We look darn fine, don’t we?

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Operation Free the Flamingos! (Part 2/2)

October 16th, 2015. The “Operation Free the Flamingos” launch date was quickly approaching and preparations were needed to ensure the success of this mission. I would not falter in the face of danger, I would not let the dreams of my loyal companions die, and I would not accept defeat. I called all the people that I thought could sway victory on my side. Only the chosen few – fleet-footed, natural instincts, and rebellious hearts – could ally themselves to the cause. The stakes were high, but the reward outweighed the risk. But not everyone could muster my overly enthusiastic fantasies of flamingo freedom. Opposition to my cause arose. And the damages from flamingo property loss were not the issue. The problem was that people didn’t want to steal from the Alumni Association. I hadn’t considered the fact that I was actually stealing from anyone. In my mind it was a harmless prank, embodying the ideals of the original prankster. The Father of the Flamingos. But I had to wonder… Would I really be honoring his legacy? I had to consider that if I was going to eradicate the flamingo population.

I continued to call people and think about the implications of my actions. And I had to accept the criticisms. Maybe stealing a flamingo was not as glorious as I thought it would be… The WFAA was doing this fundraiser for the university. And with the recent budget cuts, we have a large gap to fill if we want to continue to uphold our reputation for excellence. I could not rob from the organization that funds our school. The organization that funds my scholarship. I had a dilemma. Because I still needed a flamingo. But if I still needed a flamingo, I would have to try a new approach.

Over the past year, I built a rapport with the Alumni Association. And I would use that network to overtly plead for my primary objective. I was resolute in will, determined to ask even the smallest connection to help me with my outlandish request. The emails flew to and fro, scattering their information to computers all over the university and leaving my laptop as fast as my words per minute could bring them to life. And lo and behold! Tuesday evening I received a fortuitous email from my correspondent informing me that, due to my Red ShirtTM history and new found friends in high places, she could secure a “leftover” flamingo for me.

Wednesday morning, 8am at the Wisconsin Alumni Association building. There will be a package waiting for you at the front desk. (of course I am making this sound more like a drug deal than a personal favor, which is far more interesting)

With a flamingo held firmly in my grasp, I basked in the glory of victory, cast my hands out into the air thanking any otherworldly influence that could have even remotely contributed to the outcome of these events!! I didn’t need to lead a clan of battle-hardened college students in a raid on the home décor of Bascom Hill (though it would have been awesome). I just asked. And I received. It was as simple as that.

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Love can be found in the strangest of places.

But my story was not finished that day. Not yet. I was indebted to the WFAA. I had to make it up to them somehow. And I had the perfect solution: I would exchange my criminal past for a new future of security detail. As much as I had previously wanted to steal all the flamingos, the WFAA wanted to keep every last one of them. But something changed. Our once conflicting views now aligned. Everything came full circle, from thief to defender in the matter of minutes. That is how quickly life can change. And I would hold myself to the same standard that I held on the opposing side (but reverse, kinda like an enantiomer). Before I wanted to leave Bascom Hill barren from an attack by a ragtag strike squad of college lunatics, but now I would safeguard the livelihood of the flamingo residents in unison with the Alumni Secret Defense Forces (ASDF, just for kicks). Not a single flamingo would leave that hill. Not today. Not on my watch.

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Freeze! Put the flamingo down on the ground and no one gets hurt #flamingosecurity

So I didn’t catch anyone that day. It probably because no one wanted to steal a flamingo while I was on guard. They knew their chances would exponentially increase once I left. And I applaud them for that. I wouldn’t want to steal a flamingo if the original bad-ass was now guarding the treasure. But that wasn’t the point. I didn’t need chase anyone down the hill for miles on end, screaming at the top of my lungs and unleashing a battle cry that would stop men in their tracks. Or tackle perpetrators to the ground and rub dirt in their faces alongside the failure as I pinned them to the ground and dashed their dreams of owning an authentic Bascom Hill rarity (though this all would be MATHMATICAL!). I just wanted a flamingo.

One more item was crossed off my bucket list that day. And one more person could enjoy the sentiment of the UW-Madison flamingo. I was living my dreams and I would continue to do so.

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Me and muh PIC enjoying a mission success. ‘nuf said

Operation Free the Flamingos! (Part 1/2)

When you hear the word “flamingo”, what is the first thought that comes to mind? Some people think of their local zoo, flashing back to memories of their first-grade field trip and broccoli they threw in the animal pens. Others vaguely access factoids regarding the strange, yet amusing, coloration of their feathers and why flamingos are so flamboyantly pink. But on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus, only one thought comes to mind:

The honorary city bird that resides on Bascom Hill.

The pink flamingo has become iconic throughout Madison and beyond. It is the symbol of the Annual Fill the Hill campaign, each feathered friend representing a donor that contributed to the fund. The established tradition of the UW flamingos on Bascom Hill is beyond popular, standing 2nd only to the prank involving our very own UW Statue of Liberty in Lake Mendota. Both of these pranks, and many others throughout the history of Madison, can be traced back to the legend-(wait for it)-dary man Leon Varjian.

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The #UWFlamingos gonna get #snatched

And after the successful takeover of flamingos on Bascom, his indomitable spirit of prank-dom continued to live on. And it would manifest itself… in me. I, too, wanted to live by his political slogan and embrace the legacy that he left behind. And I thought of the most brilliant way to live up to my predecessor’s image:

Leon filled Bascom Hill with infamous pink lawn ornaments. I would take them all away.

“Honesty, integrity, responsibility … Pail and Shovel doesn’t believe in any of them!” – Varjian’s Slogan

The idea of taking a flamingo was enticing. But taking 1,008 of them? The thought overwhelmed me. I couldn’t even imagine what that many flamingos would look like, let alone where I would store them all. But I would think about that later. I just needed to get them all first… somehow. Bold stories of stolen flamingos constantly circulated around campus. There had to be other students that would join me in my mission. In fact, I already had a partner-in-crime that I knew would help me. And whether it was to have a new piece of furniture to complement their curbside sofa or they needed a makeshift drinking apparatus to store their alcohol, other students would steal the flamingos every year. And this year, I would lead them all.

This is what I would yell as I led the charge onto the battlefield

I wanted a flamingo before I read about Varjian (the bucket list!), but I did not have any real, compelling reasons. I wanted a flamingo simply for the fact of wanting a flamingo. But my partner-in-crime who wanted to do this had other intentions driving his flamingo fervor. This mission had sentimental value attached to it for him, in contrast to my primary motivation being a longtime childish rebellion against authoritative figures and social norms. This flamingo had the power to reunite distant connections and trigger memories of what once was. To some, it meant nothing more than just an improvised beer bong. To my friend, it meant honor. To me, this meant that I would get a flamingo at any cost. “Operation Free the Flamingos” just got personal.

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A taste of what is to come…

Part 1/2 complete

The Senior Bucket List

Senior year has arrived, and with it has come a most deplorable fate. The secret that has been hidden in plain sight. What we have chosen to ignore. Refused to even acknowledge its existence. It was easier that way… But now the time has come. No longer can our blissful ignorance protect us. Nor can we hide from the inevitable. The truth must come to light. Our eyes must be opened.
A cold, hard dose of reality slaps you in the face, beats you down to the ground, and leaves you just conscious enough to realize what is happening to you. We are seniors. We will be dragged – kicking and screaming against our wills – into what is known as “the real world”. Whispered rumors become full fledged realities. We have seen others succumb to this most harrowing fate, but it was never us. The day that we would be standing in the place of fabled seniors that were once our closest allies are now forgotten in the depths of what is called “undergraduate lyfe”.
Being buried under a pile of assignments doesn’t look so bad compared to the dirt that would be sprinkled over our metaphorical graves if we left. The death of our youth. And the birth of our adulthood. (which explains why there is so much kicking and screaming involved…)

While some seniors may turn their head in denial away from the impending doom of the future (myself included), others are taking preemptive measures to ensure they do join the ranks of the fallen. These seniors are spending their time studying for admissions tests, securing letters of recommendation, and finalizing their plans for the next step beyond the illusory experience of the undergraduate stage. But I cannot bring myself to do that. Not with so many unknown variables left to solve in my equation. This is what we have been trained for… so why do I feel immensely unprepared?

This is why I choose to invest my time into the present, hoping that it will pave a road for my future. It will be my “first time” for the last time this year. I won’t have the opportunity to be in an environment that facilitates the idiosyncratic nature of my being. College forces us to discover so I have to make use of that while I can.

I have clearly taken the “bucket-half-full” perspective on this one, so with no further ado I introduce THE ONE, THE ONLY

SENIOR BUCKET LIST

  • Walk Across a Frozen Lake Mendota – possibly singing songs from the “Frozen” soundtrack
  • Ice Skate in Teeney Park
  • Go to a Drag Show
  • Release a Red Heart-Shaped Balloon in the Capital building
  • Take a Picture with Bucky
  • Take a Walk in the Tunnel System
  • Olbrich Garden – Thai Pagoda
  • Attend a Muslim mosque, St. Paul’s church, Jewish synagogue, Buddhist temple
  • Obtain a pink flamingo
  • Open Mic “Take On Me” at a student org
  • Shake hands with Chancellor Blank
  • Ride Merry-Go-Round at Ella’s Deli
  • Go Inside the Clock Tower
  • Sit on Abe’s Lap
  • Love and be loved in return
  • Participate in the Battle on Bascom
  • Steal a lunch tray and sled down Bascom
  • Go out to lunch with my friend Ty Tau
  • Sneak into Camp Randall at night
  • Freakfest!
  • Eat at L’Etoile
  • Badger football game?!?
  • Essen Haus Boot Challenge
  • Steal a Memorial Union chair
  • Go somewhere I have never been before
  • Eat the Plaza Burger
  • 5K! Color Run?
  • Go to Holi, Diwali, Chinese New Year… SOMETHING!!!
  • Drink at The Library
  • Orchestra Recital!
  • Positively impact a random stranger’s life
  • Leave my mark on the UW-Madison campus
  • Nothing Left Unsaid – ongoing life perspective

That, my friends, concludes my list of unexplored mischief for my final year on campus. But by no means is it exhaustive! I just wanted to open a dialogue to generate ideas about what I should and want to be doing before I leave for good. One final rally that would make all my dreams come true – whether I knew what those dreams were or not. I want to look back on these moments and reminisce over all the crazy things that I have thought, and said, and done (it usually happens in that order). But as I ponder of the wonders of my life that are yet to be had, I have come to realize that I can’t plan everything. That is the nature of the future. It is unknown. And there is just too much adventure to be had!!! So until then I’ll take life one slice at a time and make sure that my mischief gets managed.

Flying, Falling, Freeing

I don’t know how this happened. I just know that it did. I remember earlier this year after watching “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, I wanted do everything that they did. For three weeks, I had new idols and new life ambitions. My focus on becoming a Kingsman faded with the initiation of finals week, but I still relished the idea. When my roommate mentioned it was his lifelong dream to sail through the skies at terminal velocity, my mind was made up. We were going to do it. On nothing more than a whim, I gathered information, identified cheap tandem skydiving sites, and coerced my closest acquaintances into my psychopathic fantasies of this potentially fatal pastime.

During the ride to the Wisconsin Skydiving Center, I was so psyched to be doing this. Skydiving?!? This was in my wildest dreams. And I would be doing it with my best friends. It was pure excitement. It was uninhibited joy. It would fulfill my thrill-seeking, adrenaline-crazed, sense of adventure quota for the month! Probably… But this would be a highlight of my summer. A highlight of my life.

Unlike them, we will all knew that we had parachutes… or at least we were attached to people that had them

Scene from “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, uploaded by Steve Hubbard

When we arrived at the Skydiving Center, my enthusiasm skyrocketed. We were here! I could see the hanger, the planes, and the instructors donning obscure jumpsuits. My objective was sitting right in front of me and I would waste no time to completing my mission. My roommates and I quickly signed the papers and completed the training. I didn’t really pay attention much though. I was too focused on the end result to pay attention to the basic life-saving maneuvers and standard operating procedure for basic skydiving survival skills. Talking about the experience wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t continue living vicariously through brochures and pamphlets. I want to create my own adventures.

Naturally, I volunteered to go first. I would tribute myself to appease the skies. The wind wanders aimlessly, searching to release unsuspecting travelers from the Earthly chains that bind them. We must sacrifice our Earthly natures in order to ascend. The sky has something to teach us and I was about to discover the secrets that it held most dear. Guru Laghima said it most appropriately:

“Let go your earthly tether. Enter the void. Empty and become wind.”

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FAVORITE LoK Villian right here #trueflight

We would soar ever higher, above the cloud layer and over 9000(ft). But as we continued our slow ascent to the heavens above, the reality of the situation began to register in my brain. We were 10,000 above the ground. Two months ago I could only dream of the possibilities of floating among the clouds and observing the atmospheric processes that directed their movement. But now that my eyes – along with the rest of my body – could view the masses of clouds and feel the direction of airflow, I wasn’t so sure that this was what I wanted. But it did not matter anymore because we had arrived at our destination. The sky was the limit and we had reached the end of the line.

The end of the line meant that we were supposed to be ready. The instructor unlocked the latch and opened the door to my demise. My initial excitement immediately melted into a distressful terror. What was I doing at this height?!? 10,000 ft in the air? How did I get here? Before I had not questioned the sequence of events that led up to this moment, but now that was the only thought on my mind. I grabbed the rope with my hand. My mind was racing, but my heart beat faster. I put my foot on the step outside the plane. My inner being was telling me to choose life. And I was in the perfect position to fall.

But that’s why I was doing this. I wanted to live.

The time fell upon me. We were here and there was only one thing left to do. I longingly stared down to the Earth, remembering the comfort that solid ground beneath my feet gave me. I did not know what was going to happen, but I knew I had to do this. I took one last breath.

And then I began to fall.

We first fell backwards and I could only stare at the sky and wonder how there existed anything above our current altitude. But then we flipped and I was tumbling though the air, swirling in endless loops in all directions. We stabilized. I felt a rush of air blasting upward, cutting through me. Into my body and into to my soul. I tried to scream. I couldn’t hear any words. There was air all around me, but I couldn’t even breathe. I was shaking. There was no weight to my body. I didn’t exist anymore. But when I made the strange realization that I was nothing more than a disembodied conscious, it was then that I was free.

I looked towards the ground knew that I was flying. –Er, well falling. Plummeting more actually. But I was in the sky and I was the wind. I felt the acceleration of my body, falling faster and faster. And I extended my limbs to their furthest points so my entire body could capture this moment. My mouth was wide open trying to take in the experience because I knew that any attempt to gasp for air was futile. I had released my Earthly tether. I had entered the void. I emptied and became wind.

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A vicarious viewing of my socially deviant behavior

But then I was pulled upward. Yanked back into my body and out of this otherworldly experience. The parachute had deployed. Our freefall was over. We began our leisurely descent back down to Earth. And it was in these moments that I learned the most.

Now that the most exhilarating moments had fleetingly left us, it was time to reflect. My instructor told me to sit in silence and observe my surroundings. I looked across the horizon and down to the Earth, in search of new insight for my fatigued state of mind. I could see everything from up above. The organizational layout of the cities, the plots of land dedicated to agricultural production, the thin strips of black road that transport people from one location to the next. But none of the people below even knew that I was up there or that I even existed. I was an inactive participant, removing myself so I could observe the story unfolding before my eyes and the people creating it. As the wind guided us gently to the ground, it gifted me with the experience of flight and a new perspective with which I could view the world.

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7/10 for the landing – Didn’t quite stick it…

When I landed I was breathless. Partially because my heart still had not stabilized, but mostly because I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened! It wasn’t until afterwards, when I sat and reflected on the experience that I began to feel more down-to-Earth (likely because I had Earth to stand on now). But in all honesty, I did learn the power of sky. The power it has to see what others cannot. The immense beauty that it contained. And the potential for danger that it held.

Skydiving provided irrefutable evidence for my next step in life. It showed me that I should not be afraid to jump head-first into the unknown. It is where we can learn the most about ourselves and the world. It is completely necessary to push past the boundaries of our comfort zones. And sometimes it is the only way. We can move forward by being in the moment. We can welcome our journey into the uncharted lands of the future.

“… And once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

EDIT 08/24/15 Changed quotation credit from Zaheer to Guru Laghima – newb mistake, I know…

A Model Student

My week at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) Undergraduate Leadership Workshop was underway and I was building my professional repertoire for the future. Just as this program was coming to a close, another opportunity opened up – by interrupting. The phone call was from the marketing department of the Wisconsin Foundation Alumni Association (WFAA). I was informed that they were looking for Great People scholarship recipients to publicize the new eighth edition of the Red Shirt and wanted me to send head shots for modeling. The opportunity immediately attracted me, though I was skeptical that they would actually want me to model for them. But I decided that I wouldn’t let any distractions rain on the NCAR parade. I had to put the WFAA on hold until I got my head out of the clouds and back to Madison.

Upon my return to Madison, I began to entertain the abstract idea of modeling. If the WFAA was looking for photogenic, highly enthusiastic, and – above all else – fun people, then I was obligated to disclose the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. My Facebook profile had profuse examples of my trademark face, capitalizing upon a particular peculiarity of my character that is conveyed best in person. A photograph simply could not entirely capture the essence of my eccentricities. Any of the comments on these pictures would support that claim. But now these images – what others had labeled as “awkward”, “immature”, or “unappealing” – became comical, light-hearted, and intriguing in the eyes of the recruiter. My honesty paid off. I was going to be a model for the Red Shirt campaign!

Even though I was permitted to participate in the scholarship fundraising crusade, I still felt apprehensive about the whole ordeal. I wasn’t exactly the most spirited Badger. I didn’t own any Badger gear, I only recently learned about “Varsity”, and I have never been to a Badger football game. So Badger Pride clearly wasn’t my priority, but I was inadvertently contributing to the campus community in other ways. So maybe I wasn’t the traditional UW-Madison student, but that is exactly what this campaign demanded: unconventional originality. And I knew about unconventional.

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Capturing a glimpse of a wild Kai in his natural habitat

Photographs courtesy of © Copyright C&N Photo

After my performance modeling the Red Shirt, what was originally an offer to act as an amateur model extended to an encore with the video production company to highlight my career thus far at UW-Madison. I was starting to believe that if my investment with the sciences did not work out, then my flirtation with modeling and film might have future prospects. Events were falling into place and plans set into motion. With childlike dreams for fame and fortune, I would anxiously await for the adults to decide the fate of my poses and finalize the future of the Red Shirt.

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The image seen round the world.

August 4th, 2015. The release date of the photos. I had been informed that this would be the launch date, but I was ignorant of the indirect impact it would have on my life. I felt like Harry Potter. Through some strange sorcery, I was becoming popular in real-time. The message my face delivered had been transfigured from “oblivious bystander overstepping personal boundaries” to “shamelessly awkward ownership of true character”. People were falling under my spell and under the influence to open their wallets to purchase the merchandise I was sporting. This wasn’t some illusory experience. This was real. And it was me for once.

I had stepped into the spotlight and was captivated by a 24-hour period of fame. A week ago, I was unaware that my face would take center stage on the UW homepage. Now it felt like a far-off memory. My time had passed. It was time to share the spotlight and make room for other stories and other people. Life carried on regardless of what I did. So whether I liked it or not, I had to step out into the darkness and exit stage left.

An introductory acting experience – featuring signature lip bites, subtle gestures, and a self-proclaimed weirdo

Video produced by © Copyright Backflip Films

The inconvenient truth of my socially awkward identity was that I was merely an undiscovered resource, waiting to be tapped and harnessed to its full potential. I discovered a place that would utilize my overt extroversion and channel my boundless energy. I had more Badger Pride than I had previously thought, and the homepage was evidence of that fact.

My earlier interpretation of my self-image fixated upon my interpersonal relationships, but I realize now that I should have directed my attention towards an intrapersonal dialogue as well. The Red Shirt campaign triggered an introspective investigation into the social aspect of my life. It taught me that I should just embrace all of my character because I had been hiding the best parts. Standing in the spotlight illuminated this secret for me and enlightened my understanding of myself. I felt needed for once, but I didn’t need a Red Shirt to invoke those feelings or even enable this side of my personality. I could be that guy on the front page all the time. I am important, I do matter, and I embrace the quirky reputation that I hold. And it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.

It is true what they say.

The Red Shirt is the only shirt that gives back.