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College of Arts and Sciences

Kate Selley: 'I can't do everything, but I can choose to do anything'

May 9, 2020

Kate Selley​
China & Asia Pacific Studies
Annapolis, MD

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell for three reasons: the China & Asia-Pacific Studies Program in Arts & Sciences, the climate change minor in CALS, and the opportunity to join an up-and-coming sailing team.

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you?

I didn't have one main extracurricular in college. Freshman and sophomore year I was on the Varsity Sailing Team, which taught me teamwork and patience. Junior year I interned in the fall at the Atlantic Council, a prominent think tank in Washington D.C., then in the spring at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. These experiences abroad taught me resilience, professionalism and independence. Senior year I learned leadership by working as the student program assistant for my major.

Kate Selley
What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of, either inside the classroom or otherwise?

Near the end of my semester in Beijing, a friend and I traveled to the southernmost province of China, well outside the realm where it was common for someone to speak English. We used a rideshare app called Didi to get around, and frequently cab drivers call riders in order to pick them up easier. When our cab arrived one day, after I had explained where we were on the phone, the driver wouldn't let us in his cab. He insisted that the cab was reserved through Didi. It wasn't until we explained that we were Cornell students studying Chinese in Beijing that the cab driver realized he had spoken to me over the phone, not a native speaker, and let us in the cab. At that moment, I realized maybe my Chinese accent wasn't as bad as I had thought.

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell? What have you discovered about yourself?

Cornell has taught me that I can't do everything, but I can choose to do anything. It's never too late to make a career change or learn something new. My time at Cornell has shown that if I dedicate enough time to something, I can achieve it. Whether that be juggling, Mandarin, or video editing. If someday I chose to try a new career, I'm confident that I will have the resilience to change. However, I can't do everything. There's a point where I took too many credits and did too many extracurriculars. The most important thing I learned at Cornell is that I need to take care of myself, and then I will thrive.

How has your Cornell education and experience prepared you to deal with the challenges and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic?

Cornell University gave me two travel away experiences: the first in Washington, D.C., and the second in Beijing. Prior to the tumultuous experience of living in the world's two most powerful capital cities, I was a varsity athlete for two years on the sailing team. These three experiences were then compounded by my responsibility to support serious illnesses within my family. Through those years, there were times where it felt as if the world was ending. In a weird twist of fate, the coronavirus pandemic has forced me into a situation where I can easily care for the ones I love, while I am well equipped with the stress management tools I have learned from past challenges. In addition, my classes this last semester have covered the coronavirus four days a week since the first day of class. I sat in several lectures and discussions, and watched as the coronavirus moved through China. These classes helped prepare me mentally for what ended up coming to the U.S.