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Senior Column | Collins '23.5: Deciding Factors

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Where has the time gone? It’s as if I closed my eyes on my first night here at Brown and opened them on the morning of our graduation. When we said yes to Brown, we decided that this was the place to become young, independent scholars. We decided that we loved every blade of grass on the Main Green, muddied beneath the feet of frisbee fanatics. We decided that we would tolerate the muskiness of a Goddard basement party in exchange for laughter and the freedom of dancing to Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” for the one millionth time. Though many associate Brown and our Open Curriculum with indecisiveness, we are actually expert decision makers. We know what it’s like to walk — utterly overwhelmed — onto the Main Green during the Fall Activities Fair. We know what it’s like to sign up for Shades of Brown, The Indy, CoRays, Students of Caribbean Ancestry, Impulse and twenty more new clubs. We also know what it’s like to finally whittle down to only five groups we’re doing graphic design for. Over the years we’ve spent on College Hill, we have made a lot of decisions. In a place as teeming with life and opportunity as Brown, we did the hard work of deciding what our paths were going to be. For some of us, that looked like choosing between panini pressed grilled cheese at Joe’s or pasta night at Andrews. For others, it looked like making a Google spreadsheet with every class we’ll take from now until we graduate. I, personally, fell somewhere in between. I wasn’t creating giant spreadsheets and reading the University Bulletin from front to back, but I was bounding my way through Brown one curiosity and opportunity at a time.

Just as I had begun to find my path at Brown in the spring of 2020 — deciding to concentrate in Gender and Sexuality Studies, working as a graphic designer for the LGBTQ Center and joining SHAG, Brown’s sexual health awareness group, and XO Magazine — everything changed. On March 12, 2020 — my birthday — Brown gave us a week to evacuate campus. Gone were the days of me sitting in the front of a packed Sayles classroom, attending a “Philosophy of Sex” lecture by Professor Richard Heck, a class I had eagerly wormed my way into. Shocked and panicked, my friends and I called family and made travel arrangements. We made impossible decisions that young people should never have to make, the kind that we have had to continue to make over the past four years.

As quite a few people know, I was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma on November 24, 2021. It was my dad’s birthday. While treatment for lymphoma looks different for everyone, I needed to complete six months of chemotherapy to live. Instead of returning from Thanksgiving break along with my friends, I got PET scans, a port, and my first round of chemo. At least I got out of some homework, right? The kicker of it all was that I had to forgo my planned study abroad at Goldsmiths, University of London. Instead, doctors twice my age asked me to make life-altering decisions. They asked me to decide between a PET adaptive ABVD approach or a more aggressive chemo regimen. They asked me to decide between Dr. Amengual at New York Presbyterian or Dr. Moskowitz at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Decide, they said, between your life and the life you thought you had.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that tomorrow makes no promises to us. We all now know what it means to have our entire lives upended. We all know what it feels like to be utterly uncertain about the days, months and sometimes years ahead of us. Even if catastrophic events in our lives obscure the future ahead of us, we still must make decisions. While people will tell you that our future selves will thank us for the decisions we make now, I don’t think that statement is true. The decisions we make right now, the places you travel, the kind of chemotherapy regimens you sign off on, they’re all for you. The you that you are right now. It’s true that you won’t always be this version of yourself. I know I’m not the same girl that went to the Third World Transition Program in 2019 and sat on foam mats in Sayles Hall. However, it’s only by being truly attentive to the present that we can make decisions in the first place. After all, I’m only here because I listened to my body when it told me something was wrong. Now I’m a woman who is in remission. I’m a woman who changed.

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I believe that decisions are the catalyst for change. Every decision we make becomes the spark that forges new art, new technology, new people and new relationships. Sometimes we make decisions because we must. Whether it’s to save our lives or someone else's, we have to decide what our next step will be. That decision means everything, but so do the deciding factors. Who are the people around you? What are your resources? What are you fighting for? Sometimes, the fact of the matter is, we are starting — even running — at a deficit. Though I’m in remission now, the movement isn’t over. I will receive PET scans every three months for a while to ensure my cancer doesn’t come back. The entirety of summer 2022, I fought hard against trauma induced anxiety and depression. I still deal with these things today. Everyday I decide to keep pushing, but I don’t do it alone.

My mother was my primary caregiver while I was in treatment. Her resilience, unwavering love and support got me through the darkest moments. My mother, an entrepreneur, supports families of color in independent schools, and she got me through Brown. On days when I am paralyzed by fear, and in moments when I can’t see what lies ahead, I think of her. I repeat in my head, “I am someone’s baby. Somebody loves me. I am my mother’s baby. Many people love me. I know I am not alone. I have a lifeline that is my family.”

I am Keith Collins and Gina Parker Collins’s daughter. I am Chaz Collins’s sister. I am Paige Parker and Ted Parker’s niece. I am Preston Parker and Paeten Parker’s cousin. I am loved, and whatever decisions I must make, I know I don’t have to make them alone. Class of 2023 — we are all deeply loved. I love each and every one of you for forming the Brown community that helped forge me into the woman I am today. May we all have the strength, support and love we need to keep making the decisions that continue to make our lives. We have arrived.

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