Class of 2017 Senior Reflection

Amanda Wijangco, Hayley Conley, Alisha Qazi, Carly Prais, Ashley Wijangco after their final meeting as UChapter members.

As the 2016-17 school year comes to a close, our graduating seniors are nearing their end as members of To Write Love on Her Arms’ UIUC UChapter. In fact, the entire executive board for the UChapter consists of graduating seniors, and we are grateful for the hard work and dedication they have given to the organization.

Our graduating seniors reflect on their time with the UChapter, share their favorite memories of being in the UChapter, and give insight on what the UChapter has meant to them.

Marisa Urbina, Alisha Qazi, Ashley Wijangco, Carly Prais, and Amanda Wijangco before the UChapter’s Kevin Breel event in February 2016.

Alisha Qazi – President

When did you join the UChapter?
I joined the UChapter in the first semester of my freshman year. I ran across it on Quad Day and remembered hearing about it in 2009 during my freshman year of high school.

Why did you join the UChapter?
I joined because I wanted to be involved in a movement that is so important surrounding mental health. I have had personal experiences involving the topics that TWLOHA discusses, and it has always been important to me. I wanted to join even more when I learned that it also aims to reduce the stigma, because the stigma is still a big problem, and many people I know are still trying to understand mental health.

What has the UChapter meant to you? How has it played a part in your college career?
The UChapter has meant so much to me. I was finally able to be a part of something that I care about so deeply, to try to work towards something important. Aside from the way it has given me experience working with others and being in a leadership position, it has given me the opportunity to get to know a group of people that I do not have to hide myself from. I do not have to be quiet about my mental health with this group of people because they understand it. It has inspired me to the idea that one day so many others will understand it too, so that no one struggling with mental health will ever have to hide that fact.

What is your favorite memory of being in the UChapter?
My favorite memory of being in the UChapter was meeting Jamie Tworkowski after he came to campus. After knowing about and working with this organization for so long, it was amazing to finally meet the person who started it. Jamie is an incredibly humble person and everything he says is completely genuine. It was a great experience that I’ll always remember.

Marisa Urbina – Former president (2015-2016)

When did you join the UChapter?
I joined the UChapter in fall of 2013. It was my freshman year, first Quad Day experience. I recognized the logo, wrote “Love” on my arms, and signed myself up.

Why did you join the UChapter?
I joined because I knew this great community existed based on the blog. I had really loved the blog, and it had helped me to know I was not alone. I thought it was great that here was this physical organization, right on my campus with people who could relate. TWLOHA inspired me, and I wanted to help it do the same for others. “Be the bridge to hope and help.”

What has the UChapter meant to you? How has it played a part in your college career?

The UChapter is a part of me. I was there when it was very active my freshman year, and I was there when internal issues slowed the club down to an almost halt. The few of us that were left kept it going on our own, and by my junior year, I was president, and we were back up and running with a solid group of us now-seniors, and we were planning our largest event ever.

I was president of two clubs that year, TWLOHA and Women in Architecture. It was also the year we raised more than $5000 to bring mental health speaker Kevin Breel to campus. Being president, sending the emails I did, attending the meetings I did, all of it truly made me a more rounded and better person.

What is your favorite memory of being in the UChapter?

My favorite UChapter memory is being on stage (near stage), introducing Kevin Breel in the Illini Union and looking out into the crowd, seeing the rest of the UChapter along with a whole row full of my closest friends there supporting me. We accomplished so much that year as a UChapter, and my friends who aren’t in the UChapter were there for me through the ups and downs of the whole process. I am so thankful that I have not only supportive people within the UChapter, but also outside.

While abroad this 2016-2017 school year, I have truly missed the UChapter, the people, and the organization as a whole. I am grateful that everyone has kept in touch and made sure that when Jamie visited, I still was able to “sign” the card, and they were always thinking of me. Those small thoughts from home really meant a lot to me. Here’s to us.

Carly Prais – Treasurer

When did you join the UChapter?
I joined the UChapter in the spring of 2015. It was my very first semester on campus, and I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of it.

Why did you join the UChapter?
I joined the UChapter because I wanted to be a part of a community that was non-judgemental and understanding of struggle. I also wanted to fight the negative stigma surrounding mental health. I have struggled with my mental health for most of my life, and TWLOHA has inspired me and shown me that I am not alone. The UChapter lives and breathes TWLOHA’s message of hope, and through it I have met some of the most wonderful and supportive people on this campus.

What has the UChapter meant to you? How has it played a part in your college career?
The UChapter has meant everything to me. It keeps me connected to people who care and are passionate about mental health. It has been informative, inspiring, and just plain fun. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single meeting. We have had some incredible and very important discussions regarding mental health issues. I loved having such a close group to talk openly with and bond with.

What is your favorite memory of being in the UChapter?
My favorite memory of being in the UChapter is when Jamie Tworkowski came to speak at the One Book One Campus event. I got the opportunity to have dinner with Jamie before he spoke, and it was incredible to have a one-on-one conversation with someone who is so humble, sincere, and passionate about helping others.  It gave us the chance to talk openly about the serious topic of mental illness but to also joke around about his nephews and talk about his plans for the future. His book has meant so much to so many people, and I was honored to hear him share his story with us.

Amanda Wijangco – Secretary

When did you join the UChapter?

I joined the UChapter in 2015, during the fall semester of my junior year. I knew about the UChapter before then but never got around to actually joining it until then.

Why did you join the UChapter?
I joined the UChapter to become more involved with the organization, learn more about mental health, and to show my support for mental health awareness and eliminating the mental health stigma.

What has the UChapter meant to you? How has it played a part in your college career?

The UChapter holds a special place in my heart as it’s been one of the only places.groups on campus where I truly felt like I belonged, so it surely means a lot to me. It’s helped me meet some amazing people and create some awesome memories that contribute to why I love the University of Illinois. Even though our club is focused on such a serious topic, we have been able to connect beyond that.

What is your favorite memory of being in the UChapter?

My favorite memory of being in the UChapter would definitely be when TWLOHA founder Jamie Tworkowski came to campus in November 2015. Although it was my second time meeting him and hearing him speak, it was better than I could have imagined. I don’t think it could ever get tiring hearing him speak or listening to his words. It was also so special to see our UChapter members meet and converse with him, especially since at that time, all of our exec members had met him before except for Alisha.

Jamie gave us his thanks for the work we doing in spreading TWLOHA’s mission (which was kind of weird because we honestly don’t do that much), and we were able to thank him in return for everything he’s done by giving him an awesome gift basket. Seeing his reaction to what he called the best gift basket he’s ever gotten made me so happy, and I will never forget that wonderful night.

Ashley Wijangco – Social media chair

When did you join the UChapter?
I joined the UChapter at the start of my junior year, the 2015-16 school year.

Why did you join the UChapter?
I joined the UChapter because I wanted to be a part of a group that made such a difference. I had known about TWLOHA for most of its existence, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I really began to understood what TWLOHA’s purpose, meaning, and importance. Being in college opened my eyes to the struggles that TWLOHA addresses, prompting me to take a bigger interest in mental health and the organization. I also knew about the UChapter since my freshman year, but, even though I wanted to be a part of it, I was hesitant to do—it was such an unknown to me, because I didn’t know what to expect from it and didn’t know anyone who was a part of it. Being an introvert, I just couldn’t easily convince myself to join. But I finally joined when my friend Carly convinced me to; just knowing someone in the UChapter rid of much of my hesitation. It also seemed like a good time to join after really learning to appreciate TWLOHA.

What has the UChapter meant to you? How has it played a part in your college career?
The UChapter means so much to me. Joining the UChapter has easily been one of the best decisions I’ve made in college, because it finally gave me the sense of belonging and community that I hadn’t been able to find at UIUC. I had been a part of other groups and encountered plenty of nice, friendly people in them, but I never felt completely comfortable and as if I could just be myself. But I easily—and very quickly—found that it was easy for me to open up and be myself within the UChapter. My thought has been that this was the case because the UChapter isn’t too big of a group, making it a more intimate group of people who can get to know one another more easily. I’ve done just that, too. Each person in the UChapter is unique and adds something new to the group. We all get along and understand one another well, and, for that, I’m very grateful for TWLOHA, the UChapter, and the people I’ve bonded with because of it.

What is your favorite memory of being in the UChapter?
My favorite memory of being in the UChapter is easily when Jamie came to campus in November 2016. He came for the One Book One Campus event, also making it somewhat of a promotional event for the expanded edition of his book, If You Feel Too Much—which is also my favorite book, so that made the event all the more exciting. I had met and heard Jamie speak previously during his book tour, but this time was so much better.

This time, I would get to share the experience of welcoming and meeting Jamie with my fellow UChapter members, and that made it all the more special. Jamie is such a kind person, and it showed through his lecture and his interactions with all the people he met during the book signing. I was the last person (excluding all of the employees working the event) who got to meet Jamie/have my book signed, and he was even nicer than I remember. I forgot to tell him my name (or rather re-introduce myself to him) because I was so excited to not only get to meet him again, but also to give him the gift basket the UChapter got for him.

I could go on and on about meeting Jamie (as evidenced by my lengthy blog post), but it’s a moment we’ve all bonded over—and continue to bond over. He’s responsible for bringing us all together, so it’s nice to know we have this memory that brings together our interest in TWLOHA and our relationships with one another.

(Special shoutout to Kevin Breel for being really cool and hilarious and for wearing Jordan Eclipses to campus and to Matt Sacks, Disruptt founder who came with Kevin, for being very nice and for conversing with the UChapter!)

Hayley Conley – Member

When did you join the UChapter?
I joined in the fall 2016 semester.

Why did you join the UChapter?
I have followed TWLOHA since nearly the beginning, but I had no idea UIUC had a UChapter until Quad Day of my senior year. I was super pumped and wanted to join the group and meet other people that also followed the organization.

What has the UChapter meant to you? How has it played a part in your college career?
Even though I haven’t been a member for that long, the UChapter has helped me in ways that I can’t even begin to fully explain. I have had a rough college career in a number of ways, and this group helped me to stop and sort of re-settle my mind on what is important, which is taking care of not only myself but those around me. It has brought peace to my last year on campus. Well…as much peace as a person can get while waiting to be thrust into adulthood in the real world (lol).

What is your favorite memory of being in the UChapter?
My favorite memory is definitely when Jamie came to campus. After following TWLOHA for so long, it was unreal to be able to not only meet the mind behind it, but to also hear him speak. You know it is a memory for the books when you freeze up in front of a person and start anxiously wiping your sweaty palms on your pants because you can’t figure out how to tell that person how great he is and what his work means to you. (There are totally pictures where you can see me wiping my hands…haha.)

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