Sara Haile-Mariam on...
October 04, 2021
Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?
I think that the beauty of art is that anybody can be a teacher, anybody can bear witness, and anybody can have access to the soul journeys of another person. I think it's powerful stuff and the fact that we can pick up a book or an album or watch a film and
What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?
The most powerful piece of advice I've ever received and one that I keep coming back to is to start somewhere. Especially at a time when we have so much access to other people's experiences it's really easy to get caught up in comparisons and in wanting to achieve a certain level of success at a certain point in your life. None of that is real. Your experiences are entirely your own, your journey is your own, and the best thing that you can do when you feel something tugging at your heart strings is to stay present and start somewhere. Resist the temptation to fixate on what could go wrong or what could even go right and just focus on taking things one step at a time. My path has definitely veered in ways I never thought to expect but the best thing I've done, the most useful advice I've ever taken, is when presented with a new idea or opportunity, just start. Once you start; keep going, feed your dreams, focus on what you can do in that day and the rest will come.
Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?
I don't think there's a one size fits all answer to this question. I can tell you that while traveling this Spring I went to New Orleans and drinking a beer on the Mississippi River with a belly full of Po Boys and beignets was one of my favorite life experiences to date. That said, when I think of where I aspire to travel I think of Ethiopia. I was born there and moved to the states with my family when I was two. My Grandmother still has a farm there and I'm definitely eager to visit, to meet extended family, and to know more about where I come from. I can't say that you (student) would get the same of out of that experience. So in terms of my travel advice, I'd suggest going to the places that make your heart feel big. Whether that's seeing family, or experiencing a culture that you're fascinated with, or going to a place where you can drink beers on the Mississippi River, traveling changes you. It helps you see new parts of the world and as a result helps you get to know new parts of yourself. Veer off the tourist path and engage with people. Listen, learn, and enjoy the ride.
When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?
I guess "failing" academically happened most prominently while applying to schools. I didn't get into my first choice Early Decision School and I was devastated. I had visited the campus, and I was convinced that this school was where I was supposed to land. Life went on and ultimately I got into a great school, got scholarships to attend, met great people, had great experiences, and set off on a path that I wouldn't take back. There's always a flip side to any failure - a lesson to learn or a new insight to gain. Hearing that advice when you probably need to hear it the most is hard to stomach. Whether it's an academic failure or an inadvertent life turn, it's hard to believe that there's good to be gained from difficult times but from my experience there always has been. Above all else, it's important to go with the flow and to realize that what looks like failure might actually be setting you up for things you couldn't begin to dream up, yet.
Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?
Everything is different than what I expected.
I currently sing and play drums in a rock band.
In my last year at NYU I was a grassroots organizer and campaign surrogate on the Obama Campaign. In the intervening years I've spent time working in electoral politics, for nonprofits and in technology. I don't think I ever consciously elected to go into a field. More than anything I was driven by gut feelings and the desire to make a positive impact on the world. I also found myself making things wherever I went regardless of what my job description actually called for. Following the instinct to make things and the desire to do something larger than myself is what got me from one step to the next. 10 years ago the prospect of being the front-woman of a rock band resonated with me as ridiculously as the prospect of opining on cable news on behalf of a youth vote coalition and yet I've done both of those things. I think the reality is that our lives are full of choices and what you decide to do today may not be what you decide to do tomorrow. I've learned the importance of following the things you're excited about, and doing so regardless of whether or not anyone approves or supports your decisions. Ultimately it's your life and if you feel like a field doesn't contain enough colors for your canvas, your vision, then don't worry about committing to a field. The same goes for any sort of preconceptions associated with any given dream or goal. Just because you're doing things differently then how they've been done before, doesn't make your way wrong. It makes it yours.