7 Things I Learned From Ann Arbor Awesome

“Hi, we are doing a project for our Minor in Writing course. Would you be willing to answer two questions and get your photo taken?”

“Yeah, sure”

“What inspires you?” “Is there a moment that you wish you would have appreciated more?”

1.    Ann Arbor is awesome

Ann Arbor is more than a city; it is a community. The people of Ann Arbor are brilliant in so many ways. They’re innovative, successful, intelligent, unique, and most importantly, invested.

The fact that every single stranger we asked to participate in our project shared genuine thoughts is astonishing. Not only did they answer our questions, they were curious and interested in us and what we were doing. We heard, “Good luck with your project!”, after almost every photo was snapped. For that, I would like to thank everyone who made Ann Arbor Awesome possible.

2.    Music is the universal language

One of the first people that we interviewed was an older woman who was tightly gripping the hand of her husband. He would periodically glance in her direction with a loving smile. We walked up to them and explained our project. Then Beixi asked, “What inspires you?” The woman smiled and looked down. “Music,” she said. “It is the universal language.”

We made small talk with the couple for a few minutes, asking them about their children and how long they had been together. I snapped a photo and Beixi and I headed across the Diag towards State Street.

Soon after, we stumbled upon a group of middle schoolers hanging out in the grass. Although Beixi won’t agree with me, I’m convinced that they were on a date (it was two boys and two girls and they were sitting awkwardly far apart). Again, Beixi asked, “What inspires you?” After about 20 seconds of blank staring, one of the girls piped up, “Music!” followed by something along the lines of the freedom and emotion that her favorite artists express. I took photos of the kids and we thanked them.

A number of other participants of varying ages and demographics had the same answer: “Music.”

Music is universally understood and appreciated. The power that music has, to relate to so many people, is insurmountable. Music is inspirational in many ways, but to me, it is inspiring because it motivates and intertwines such a diverse range of people.

3.    Smile at strangers 

Beixi and I spent a Sunday afternoon walking to Main Street interviewing people. Well, at least that was the original intention (we ended up doing more window-shopping than originally anticipated). However, we did take up an interest in the store employees. When we walked into The Peaceable Kingdom, I was frazzled because it was freezing outside and my backpack was getting heavy. Beixi could barely type on her phone because her “fingers were going to fall off”.

A young woman smiled at us from behind the counter when we stumbled in. She was wearing cat-eye glasses and bright pink lip gloss. We approached her and explained our project. She answered, “I am inspired by people who take the time to care about strangers. People that you don’t know the names of and never will. A friendly smile can go such a long way.”

Kindness makes the world a better place. Her warm smile made me feel welcome and comfortable. I never learned her name, and probably never will, but her impact was stronger than that of people that I’ve known for years.

4.    Youth is valuable

The second question that we asked, “What is a moment you wish you would have appreciated more?” garnered a very diverse set of answers.

From each unique response, “kindergarten” to “elementary school” to “high school” to “my wedding day” to “watching my kids grow up”, a theme can be drawn. Appreciate youth.

This premise has led me to ponder the concept of time. I am 21 years old, and I have this theory that every year, every day even, we actually have less time. Is the thought of time relevant to how much we have had already?

When we were children, each day was such a giant fraction of life as we knew it. Every waking moment was something huge, even monumental, in comparison to a moment in present life.

The concept of a day a week a summer and a year is not the same. A day is disappearing into a miniature fragment of my growing time on this planet. A week carries no substantiality, let alone a weekend that flies by faster than the wink of a stranger. A summer gets lost amidst a few days near the water and many more in an office. A year is like reading a page without processing any of the words. Where did it go?

The concept of time is deceiving.

Ten years ago I spent my days raising havoc in my neighborhood.  Now, I am raising hell in a college town. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Will ten years into the future seem like five? Will twenty seem like six?

I am 21. But in the relative scheme of life and time, am actually much older?

5.  Education is important

Beixi and I were turning the corner from State onto Liberty when a man sitting on the sidewalk interrupted us. “How are you girls doing today?” he asked. Beixi responded, “We’re doing well. How are you?” The man smiled and Beixi walked in his direction. At this point, I hesitantly supported her as she began explaining our project. The man agreed to participate.

“I am inspired by intelligence,” he immediately answered. “People that know what they want, work hard, and never give up. Intelligent people have the power to change the world.”

I was shocked by this answer. A homeless man had eloquently described the importance of wisdom.

I often find myself stressed, angry, and wanting to just roll over and quit. However, this man inspired me to push myself. He led me to think about how fortunate I am to be a student at the University of Michigan and that I should take advantage of every resource and opportunity possible.

6.    Say “I love you” more often

After I asked, “Is there a moment that you wish you would have appreciated more?”, I would often notice a glimpse of sadness fill the eyes of our befriended strangers.

One particular young man with a sleeve of tattoos peered back at me for an instant after I asked him this question.

“My little brother died a few months back,” he said. “We went to this concert together the week before. What I would give to have another hour with him there. Even twenty minutes. I just miss him so much.”

After I got home that evening, I called my mom to tell her how thankful I am to have her in my life, that I was excited to see her the next week, and that I loved her.

7.    Follow your dreams, not what you think will make you rich

While every response about inspiration was thought provoking and unique, I found the answer of one young woman particularly relevant to my life right now. She was a junior in the Ross School of Business and had an interesting perspective about people.

“When I want to get to know someone in my classes, I start out by asking them what their dream job is,” she said. “I love to hear how excited people get about it.” Then, she smiled and looked away before continuing on her train of thought. “The next question I ask is what they are going to do when they graduate.”

I replied, “Why do you ask people these specific two questions?”

“I only get to know the people who are actually chasing their dreams,” she responded. “Anybody can dream of being the owner of their own record label but plan to pursue a career in finance. I want to know the people who are actually taking a risk and doing what they love.”

As an upperclassman, my fear about the future is perpetually growing as the uncertainty rises. But as far as I’m concerned, you’re only a failure if you don’t try to follow your dreams.


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