Seniors Speak: Cahiers du IMSA

Designed by Sohum Gupta.

One of the sections included in the annual Senior Edition is a series of essays titled Seniors Speak. These works are written and submitted to The Acronym by members of the graduating class, allowing them to reflect on their experiences, share advice, and advocate for change. The writer of this piece is Rebecca Xun (UIUC ’22), who lived in 1501 and served as Student Council President. 

My dad was the gateway to all movies for me. I would sit in front of our TV cabinet. Left side for Dad, right side for me. From our grimy VHS tapes to the thick binders full of DVDs he burned when he rented from Blockbuster. I would like to share with you a collection of childhood movies of mine and the lessons I’ve gathered at my time in IMSA.

I. A.I Aritificial Intelligence (2001) 

We are in our old apartment in Kentucky. I must be five years old. I take the scissors and snip away at a fleece golden teddy bear, then at the corner of the carpet. I remember the boy (David?) in the water, drowning.

The many joyous moments I’ve had at IMSA have been interspersed with a lot of my lowest. Nights of greatest despair are always quiet and alone, splintering around me when no one else can see. At 4AM in the wing commons in my small raggedy blanket and feet swaddled in fuzzy socks, while I feel like my diaphragm is closing up, that is when there is a small clarity. There is a liminal peace here, and I wish we didn’t have to find them. But we do. We grab them by our throat and keep breathing in water. (You also find these in the main building on weekends after hours when no one is there, Access road when the sun has barely broken.)

II. A Bug’s Life (1998) 

Out of the three in the VHS box set (Toy Story and Toy Story 2 being the other two), I watched this one the most. The scene of the grasshoppers toppling over the seeds is a communist legend.

Guard your tongue. There’s nothing wrong with having strong, yet fluid, beliefs. If you are too headstrong with some of your politics, they will just turn into slogans and memes that no one listens to. They should be continuously refreshed by reading your theory, talking to experts, balancing with friends, updating with recent events.

III. Thank You for Smoking (2005) 

I think I was fresh out of elementary school when I watched this with my dad. I was icked out by an affair in the plot, I think. I watched it again. My dad told me that I didn’t get the cat I had been begging for because I wasn’t asking my mom right. He told me to watch the movie again. I did. I got the cat a year later, no help from this movie.

One of the jokes from this movie goes — the son asks his tobacco-lobbyist father, “Dad, why is the American government the best government?” and the father says, “Because of our endless appeals system.” As earnestly as I can say it, administration is almost always never malicious. Closed mouths don’t get fed — gossiping mouths don’t get fed. If you are dissatisfied, then you must appeal. You must organize. You must reach out to the appropriate organizations to get what you want. Sometimes, people will not be the first one to offer their hand. It sucks. So practice your “please” and “thank you”s.

IV. Miracles – Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (1989) 

My dad told me once that this was his favorite Jackie Chan movie. When I ask him again, he never says this is it. But I love its whimsy, its fight choreography, its Western gall, and how luck can be bestowed with a rose from a good woman.

I’ve build up a solid canon of superstitions while here. They range from eating one bite of my McDonald’s hashbrown before the rest of my sandwich when I go by myself to debate tournaments to rubbing my eyes to grant a very small wish. It’s probably silly, but I think there is true magic in these sparks of daily life. Believe in these transitory fantasies you dream because they weave together swaths of days that otherwise bleed together.

V. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) 

My dad prefers style over substance, flash over grit, which is why this sequel is our favorite. (He’s not a dud, mind you, he cares about plot, but if it doesn’t glitter, it isn’t gold!) We watched this ritualistically when I was younger (once every month, then two months, then six months, now maybe a year or so); I must clock over 30 times seeing this movie, if not more. The sleek design of the T1000 is still terrifying. If not as awe-inspiring as Sarah Connor doing her pull-ups (to me as an eight year old).

While the first time can be good, the second time can be even better. Others will no doubt discuss the importance of failure. You will begin to forget how good it feels to finish homework early, win elections, head meetings — hopefully not for want of actually achieving these things — and if you’re numb, that only means you must drive in a different direction, drive with different vigor. Your successes should always have some novelty in them. You don’t have to win constantly, just win a little differently every time.

VI. Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) 

I have recurring dreams about secret passageways. There is one that I only visit every two and a half years or so, and it’s in our old townhouse. Beneath the first floor stairs, we had a closet, and I always dream of a tunnel I could crawl in above the shelf. On the second or third dream, my body was too big to fit in there.Anyway, all I remember about this movie despite watching it a lot was that Ashton Kutcher was a jerk, there was that little tomboy sister who always called one little kid “fedex,” and said little kid would cry in the secret passageway of their house.

When you go home second semester senior year, you will feel tender. I’m moving to California after I graduate from IMSA, so my home will no longer be home. And my nest at IMSA will be uprooted. I will no longer slot into my niche in either of these places, and I hope at college there will be refuge. Homes aren’t always happy, but they are movements of growth. Move and grow at IMSA, love and visit your family if possible and inclined, and you won’t be filled with regret when you leave these homes.

About the Author

Chandana Tetali
Chandana Tetali, originally from Naperville, IL, now resides in 06CDQ. Though formally the Editor-in-Chief ('17-'18) of the Acronym, other titles for her include The Master Procrastinator, "Shandonna," Charmander, Sinnamon Roll, and the second half of the Best Roommate Pair on Campus.

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