One in Two Thousand: Victoria Michalska ’22

Nigel Jaffe


I first met Victoria when I was sitting with a friend on the swing set behind Mission. She said the two of us looked like Romeo and Juliet, and even though it was weeks before Victoria and I crossed paths again, she remembered my name. We sat down to talk about summers in Poland, enlightenment in the Big Apple and her taste for modern art. 

NJ: I know you used to live in Eastern Europe. What was that like?

VM: Right. I’ve spent quite a number of summers in Poland. We’re talking the rural countryside here – it’s a tiny town, and during summers there’s nothing to do there, honestly. All of the youth that typically live in this town tend to flee, so during the summer it ends up being just me and a bunch of old people. The youth who end up staying there are generally the more … unambitious kind. 

Since I was alone for a month with just my parents and these old people, I would take a lot of walks, and I’d run into people. I remember at one point I saw a couple of young people sitting on a bench in a park in my neighborhood. I went over to them and was like, “What’s up, team?” – well, I didn’t actually say it in those words – but I was like, “Yo, what’s up, I’m new around here.”

NJ: In English?

VM: No, no, in Polish. I speak Polish fluently, but I have a bit of an accent. I’m interested in linguistics, and my Polish is kind of weird because I speak so much English. Anyway, I walk over to the guys and introduce myself. And they’re like, “Oh, this hot chick from New York City – cool, cool!” And they’re nice to me, they offer me a sip of their beer and it’s just great. So I’m bonding, I’m making friends. I think to myself, “Maybe I’ll get a number, maybe we’ll get to hang out, maybe I won’t be alone for the entirety of this godforsaken month!” But then they start smoking weed. That was fine, I guess, and I thought that was it. But nope – eventually, one of them looks at me and goes, “You wanna do some meth?” 

And I was like, “No, I don’t,” but I was interested to see how the situation would go, so I just kind of stuck around. They brought everything out, and I found it so funny – they ended up crushing the crystals between two Polish history textbooks. 

NJ: You mean history textbooks that are in Polish, or textbooks that are about the history of Poland?

VM: About Poland, in Polish. 

NJ: So you might say that they’re Polish, Polish history textbooks. 

VM: But in Poland, there is no Polish. Everything is Polish, Polish. Their world revolves around Poland. In high school, my friends used to make fun of me because I would casually wear Polish sports attire. They were like, “Why do you do this? It’s not a Polish holiday,” but you see, I was raised to have that Polish nationalism. It now really contradicts my more New York City-style liberalism. 

NJ: Right. What was your time in the city like?

VM: Oh my goodness. Up until middle school or so, I was very, very sheltered. My parents barely let me leave the house. They were always afraid that somebody was going to snatch me off the street. I didn’t go anywhere without my parents, but my mother understood that a little girl needs to socialize, so she would take me to a lot of museums. In high school, once they couldn’t monitor me as much, I started exploring different neighborhoods and boroughs, but I still went to museums on my own. There’s so much to be learned at museums – such a convenient way of organizing information. I mean, why not enlighten yourself?

NJ: That’s what I always say.

VM: On the other hand, I was raised to have very traditional Polish Catholic beliefs. But that all kind of deteriorated, to tell you the truth. The Big Apple is so dynamic, just filled with diversity. How could you be racist? What’s the fun in walking around and just hating everybody you see that doesn’t look like you or come from the same background as you? What’s the fun in that? There’s no pleasure in hate. I see the appeal of nationalism, though. It’s so great to fit in. It’s so appealing. There’s an annual parade where people celebrate their Polish nationality, walking down the middle of one of the major avenues in Manhattan, shouting about national identity. That feels great, but it comes at a cost, it really does. 

NJ: At the College, you’re known for your tendency to float around, exploring different parts of campus. What contributes to that social presence? 

VM: I mean, I’ve always been that type of person. I used to compare myself to a thread, weaving in and out of different fabrics. If I wanted to, I could just put myself into a single social circle, surround myself with a single set of beliefs and ideas. But if you hang around with the same people all the time, you’ll end up talking about the same things all the time, too. I like the variety. Life is so short, and there’s so much to be experienced. Why limit yourself?

NJ: That’s a fun philosophy. Do you have any favorite spots to linger?

VM: [Laughs.] I don’t know, Nigel. You tell me. Where do you always find me?

NJ: Well, everywhere! Usually in Mission, I guess.

VM: Mission lobby, right where we are now. I love it here – I’ve got the television, and I’ve got the people around me. I just sit here and do work, someone I know comes by and we chat for a little bit. I learn about their day, I tell them about mine, and they give me some advice, because I’m always in need of advice. Yeah, Mission lobby is definitely one of my favorites. 

NJ: You mentioned museums earlier – I feel like this wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t ask you about art. 

VM: [Laughs.] Well, here’s what I’ve got. These days, art is very conceptual. For example, take Dada. Super abstract, super subjective. It’s the kind of stuff where you put a random object down, and you just say, “Art.”

NJ: Isn’t it, though?

VM: Well, that’s another question. What I’m saying here is that we need to move away from the conceptual stuff. We need a return of artisanship, you know? We need to care more about the details. That’s what I tell my art history professors. 

NJ: Are you heralding that return yourself? Are  you the return of artisanship?

VM: No, no, I’m not on that level yet. But you know who I love? Andy Warhol. I really admire him. I think he’s the goal here.

NJ: Your name doesn’t quite have the same punch, does it? An-dy War-hol. It’s a syllable thing.

VM: That’s why my friends call me “Wiki.” It’s got flavor – and a much better ring. In the end, stardom is really all about your image, you know?