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College of Arts and Sciences

Paola A. Camacho-Lemus: 'Find work that fulfills your sense of purpose'

May 2, 2018

Paola A. Camacho-Lemus

Religious Studies & Asian Studies

Northshore, CA

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

Outside of academics, I have been engaged in executive leadership at the Cornell Public Service Center (PSC) for the last four years. I have had the immense pleasure of working with Joyce Muchan, the assistant director of student engagement at the PSC, organizing under the Language Expansion Program (LEP) and the Translator Interpreter Program (TIP). I am currently the president of TIP, and senior advisor of LEP. The work that students do under the PSC is so important because they are not only learning about how to be better global leaders and citizens, they are taking an active role to improve the community they are now a part of and permeating the Cornell bubble to work toward improvement in peoples’ lives. Personally, I have been committed to language-based justice issues since before my high school years; I have been a Spanish interpreter at local clinics and schools in my desert communities and being able to continue similar efforts in Ithaca has been absolutely integral to my moral survival here.

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

My sophomore year at Cornell, I took Professor Jane Law’s Zen Buddhism course, which included a summer travel component to Japanese temples and monasteries. The trajectory of the course, lectures, literature and assignments, as well as experiencing Zen practice in monastic settings, was simply life-changing. Returning home from this trip, I discovered it had held its momentum in my everyday life and changed the way I perceive my relationship to silence, food, belongings, space and other sentient beings. My experience reinforced my beliefs in the kind of effect I want my future research to produce, and it also came to increase the amount of care and consideration I imbued in my actions and decisions. During this trip I was able to dismantle a mental roadblock I had set in my own way and since then, I have continued to engage in that introspection.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

To those who can see the meaningfulness behind serving others, I would heavily encourage seeking issues that you feel strongly about and take action. If you feel strongly about human rights, mental health, child protection, representation, equity, etc., join an organization that works towards these issues or start an initiative. Find work that doesn’t just fulfill you academically, find work that fulfills your sense of purpose.