One in Two Thousand: Onyeka Obi ’21

I met Onyeka when she auditioned for Frosh Revue this fall. This week, I caught up with her about her path to the College, creative prom photos and, of course, memes.

So to start, how did you end up at the College?

When I was doing the college research process and everything, I was kind of stuck, because my school didn’t really have a lot of resources for the college application process. I was basically told to go to a University of California school, or any other in-state public school, so I didn’t really look at private schools until I stumbled upon QuestBridge one day when they sent me a letter in the mail saying, “Apply for QuestBridge!” And I was like, “Hey, I guess I’ll do it!” I looked through the catalog of QuestBridge schools, and then I kind of stumbled across one tiny school in the corner – one of the last listed – and I was just so confused. I’d never heard of Williams once in my life. Nobody had ever mentioned it before, because nobody in California knows about Williams, apparently. But then I looked at the QuestBridge resources that they have at Williams, and everything else about it, and I just kind of fell in love – I knew that was the school that I really wanted to go to – or that I should at least try to visit. So, I applied for Windows on Williams, which is a fly-in program that Williams has for low-income and first-gen students. I once again fell in love; everything I thought about Williams was reassured – the community was so strong and so great and so open and willing to talk. I distinctly remember Calen [Firedancing ’20]; he was sitting at my table for the admission ambassador dinner on the first night and I just remembered thinking that he was so funny and so open. Now, I not only work with him as a fellow admissions ambassador, but he’s also my director for Frosh Revue, which is a pretty awesome turn-around. I was so glad that people at Williams were able to retain that genuine expression of emotion and intensity that I didn’t really see at other schools. I decided then and there that this is where I want to go, this is where I deserve to be. … So basically Williams was always my number one throughout the process, and it worked out. I genuinely love it here and I’m so happy.

How did you first get involved in ‘Williams Memes for sun-dappled tweens’?

So for QuestBridge, I reactivated my Facebook one day because I decided to get involved in that community, and as an extension of being in that college application-oriented community, I noticed a lot of people joining college meme groups, like ‘UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens’, and all the other different pages. So, I figured, “Well, if I’m gonna go to Williams, I might as well join the meme group.” So I decided to just try joining Williams memes, and I got in, and I was like, “Oh, this meme group is a little quiet.” I mean, other groups published once a day, like people are constantly active; this is a small school but I expected a little bit more meme-ry going on, you know? So I consulted the Williams Class of 2021 GroupMe – I asked if I should post some memes and some people were like, “Yeah, you should, that’s going to be a good first impression for us.” So I decided to just post – my first meme was a Mr. Krabs meme. You know the one where he’s kind of shook? I labeled it, talking about how Williams expected so much of pre-frosh, basically, like our financial aid packages and everything else, and like a social security number. And then I posted the prom meme, and everything else, and then I ended up being a moderator on the page, and it’s been a really fun experience. I haven’t been posting recently since coming to Williams, as adjusting to college has been a lot. I’m going to get back to it soon.

You mentioned the prom photo acceptance letter meme. Can you tell us the story behind that?

Okay, so, I was planning for prom with my friends in high school and everybody else kind of had dates, like elaborate proposals, and people asking them out with lights and all this stuff, and I was like, okay, I don’t have a date. So I went with my friends ultimately but I decided to bring my own date [the acceptance letter] in my duffel bag with all my other back-up stuff for prom. Like if I’d get tired I had extra shoes, so I brought my acceptance letter. Now I didn’t know if I was going to use it, but just in case. It turns out that prom had a photo booth where we could just take pictures for free with our friends. I was like, “Well, I don’t really have any friends, so I might as well take my acceptance letter and use it as my date.” So essentially that’s how that picture started up – I just took my acceptance letter in there and people were staring at me; I was like, “Don’t ask questions.” And then I posted on the meme page. I sent it to my group chat first and asked, “Should I post this on the meme page?” and everyone said, “Yes, please do it,” so I did, and that’s my claim to fame now apparently.

Now that you’ve been here for a while, what are the highlights?

I would say generally I’ve probably never been happier in my life, I think. It’s been a really weird experience; it’s been a really overwhelming experience. I’ve been overloaded with stuff, but it’s been a sort of positive overload; I mean it is stressful, but I know I have a support system that exists here, that I know I can depend on and talk to; those people are always there that I can reach out to, and that’s definitely comforting because it’s not something I’ve always had. It’s generally been a really good experience – I love it here. I don’t think I’d be happier anywhere else. I do actually love it here, but, of course, I have some critiques. I really notice, especially at parties, where it’s generally like thin white athletic people, and I’m like: “I am none of the above.” It’s definitely been a really weird experience, blending in, trying to fit in, or even trying to retain myself, reaching out in general to a community that’s so different from me. I feel like, on a bigger campus, I wouldn’t really be comfortable reaching out, while on a small campus, I can.

You’re working at the Davis Center as a community builder – how’s that been going?

We just started last week, and so far it’s kind of made me aware of how for some people, they can’t really pick out any identity that is most important to them, but for other people – for people like me, for people of color, for queer people, for disabled people, for all the people on campus who kind of feel marginalized – that’s relatively easy. So the entire work of the community builders as an organization is to, basically, reach out to people on campus who don’t really understand the nuances of identity, don’t really understand systems of power or racial injustices, or basically the injustices in the world and sometimes even on this campus. The entire work of the community builders is just to make sure that all people on campus have some working knowledge of their privileges, or basically how to interact with the world in a way where they’re aware of those positions of power they may inhabit. And so, I’m definitely really excited to start working with people because everybody can learn something a little more about themselves. Being able to facilitate those conversations on this campus and having a role with changing the landscape of how people interact with each other is something that excites me more because, like I said earlier, the community is one of the reasons I came here. So being able to contribute to the community in a way that makes it more wholesome and more friendly to each other is something that I’m so glad to be part of.

Have you had any “first-year moments,” particularly funny or embarrassing stories on campus?

So actually this isn’t really one specific story, just like a little pet peeve kind of, but also kind of embarrassing. Lately one thing that I’ve been trying to do on campus kind of low-key, but also kind of not, is trying to meet a lot of people and understand people to build, you know, the community. So I literally just talk to people, and I’m just trying to understand everyone by recognizing names and stories to make them feel welcome. But there are multiple times when I wave to someone and I’m like “Hey!” and they don’t wave back or even acknowledge me. It’s happened to me multiple times at this point and it’s … I’m just trying so hard to be your friend, people, to reach out! Say hi to me anytime!