The first day of my adult life

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Jonny, Juanita and me during my last week at Northwestern.

In the four months since my last post, I have finished my last semester at Northwestern, gotten my first paid job at SKDKnickerbocker, become an uncle, turned 22, volunteered at two Human Rights Campaign galas, moved twice, obsessed over Beyoncé’s new self-titled album (oh my god Microsoft Word corrects Beyoncé to add the accent!), contributed to marriage equality in Illinois and closed out one of the most important years of my life.

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Me and my adorable newborn niece, Vivian Yee Suen!

Maybe I’ll have time to reflect back on some of these events in blog form, maybe not. Today, however, is a day that screams “BLOG ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS.”

Today marks my first day living in DC as a college graduated, employed adult. It feels weird – a combination of curious, excited, nervous, “happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time” (I hate to say it, but the anthem “22” describes my life just six days after my 22nd birthday down to the T-Swift).

I got out of bed at 2:30 today. I start work on Monday, and I wanted to enjoy having nothing to do before I start working 47.5 hours a week. I explored my new neighborhood, called Eastern Market, which I think will be a perfect place to start out my new life. It’s rainy outside, but I didn’t mind. I ate at this nice diner I had heard of called Ted’s Bulletin – grilled cheese and tomato soup – and checked out a few of the other restaurants I’m sure I will be tired of in six months. The food and flea market that Eastern Market was named for was a little bare bones today, probably because of the weather or the later afternoon hours in which I explored it. It’s going to be nice to be able to get up early and buy fresh produce on the weekends.

I’m not quite sure what my living situation is right now. I’ve got a room in what I believe is a law firm operating out of a house, and I think that my landlord, who is a lawyer at the firm, lives somewhere in the house or in an addition to the house. I should have three other roommates, but only one is here and I haven’t met him yet. The room is pretty big, with two closets, a desk and plenty of drawer space. I’ve got a comfy queen bed that I am lounging on as I type this. I’ve got two big windows facing a street filled with row houses, trees and a couple of small but pretty churches, and I’ve been enjoying watching the passersby with their umbrellas in the light drizzle. Vampire Weekend is playing on shuffle, as it has been for the past week since my friend made me get their CDs.

I am anxious about living in DC without knowing many people. I am starting a whole new life here, and that is intimidating. I am most afraid of loneliness; it would be too easy to just work and go home, occasionally seeing the few familiar faces I know here and never meeting new ones. It’s going to take a lot of energy and effort to meet people, and I’m not sure how to get started. At least once work starts on Monday, I will be busy and hopefully meeting some people through that.

Hopefully, three months from now, I can look back on this and think, “wow – I had no idea how many great people and what an awesome time I was going to be having!” It’s always scariest at the beginning of a new chapter, when you don’t know what to expect, which people are going to become your friends or what your routine is going to be. I look back on college and think about how I met the people that ended up being my best friends, how I never would have imagined the impact they would make on me the first time we hung out. How I met my friend Jonny on Facebook before college even started or Juanita walking on the stairs of our student center or Kate on my pre-orientation backpacking trip or Britt in the hallway outside of a friend’s dorm room or Jacob at a party for a student production I had worked on.

First year of college with my best friend, Jonny.

I will admit that it does feel much scarier than when I first started college. College is built for you to make friends, with clubs and class and dorms and events. Aside from work, I am going to have to seek out those things on my own. I’m always open to advice if you’re one of my friends who have already started adulthood.

Here’s to beginning my new life. 

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Settling In

This post was featured on the Northwestern EPICS Blog on July 30. I have been blogging for them, the HRC blog and Both Eyes on the Suen, so please forgive the crossover!

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Things have certainly calmed down since standing in front of the Supreme Court when DOMA and Prop 8 were repealed. I’ve gotten used to the daily routines of work, felt more like a local in DC and become closer to my new friends. I’ve seen my projects come to fruition and realized that my work is benefiting an organization I care about.

I’ve spent a significant amount of my time here recruiting interns for the fall and creating a comprehensive guide on intern recruiting. The guide has reached 25 pages (granted, a lot of it is contact information)! I’ve contacted dozens of university “intern in DC” programs asking them to send our information to their students. I’ve sent hundreds of Facebook messages and emails to campus LGBT groups and resource centers. I’ve also mastered job posting on LinkedIn, Idealist and university-specific career services websites.

The most fun part of the intern recruiting process has been social media advertising, which allowed me to create posts for the HRC Facebook page (liked by nearly 1.5 million people), Twitter and Instagram. I was able to direct an intern photo-shoot that was used on the Instagram – and of course dozens of profile pictures. 

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I was also able to attend Generation Progress’s Make Progress National Summit 2013 with the rest of the interns, which was fun and empowering. We heard from some awesome speakers there, my favorites including (but not limited to) Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, senior adviser to president Obama, David Simas and openly gay Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin.

Warren gave a riveting speech on the student debt crisis, as student interest rates recently doubled due to inaction by Congress. This year, the government is expected to make $51 billion in profit from student loans.

“The government should not be making profit on the backs of our students,” said Warren.

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Simas spoke about the importance of the Affordable Care Act and its implications for those who max out their healthcare plans, those with preexisting conditions and young people. He urged us to fully support the act and to encourage people to enroll for these protections on October 1, when open enrollment begins.

Baldwin finished the summit with empowering words on the importance of youth in the progressive movement. The day really got me excited about a career in progressive politics, whether that’s through nonprofit work, working for a politician or maybe even running for office one day. Like this summer as a whole, the summit has opened my eyes to careers that I had never thought about before – ones that I plan on pursuing.

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After the summit, I was able to post my first post on the official HRC blog about the interns’ experience at the summit. You can read the full post here.

The other new project I have been working on is planning and advertising the HRC “Networking with GenEQ” event. The event will bring together progressive youth from around DC to take part in a networking activity led by facilitators from the HRC staff and enjoy a light reception afterwards. It will be a great way to meet other young professionals in the area and talk about ideas and goals as members of the progressive movement. You can find the Facebook event and RSVP form for the event here.

Encouraged by my new “professional” lifestyle and staff at the HRC, I also bought my own domain name for my website, www.brennansuen.com and ordered business cards. This internship has really made me feel like I’m entering adulthood, but also that I am entering it passionate and excited. 

July 4th, 2013: Four years living openly

For me, the Fourth of July will never just be a holiday where I celebrate America’s independence; it’s also the day where I celebrate the beginning of mine.

Some of my best friends and me at my annual America themed party back in Little Rock.

Some of my best friends and me at my annual America themed party back in Little Rock.

I could say a lot about how America isn’t exactly the land of the free for 70% of Americans that don’t live in a state with marriage equality, or how LGB people can be fired in 29 states and T people in 34 just for being who they are, or about a hundred other things that need to change – but most of us know all this. Instead, I’d like to talk about some of the wonderful parts of my coming out.

I came out on July 4, 2009 in a 30-minute, unplanned monologue filled with penetrating silences and about two dozen repeats of “I’m just not… I’m just not” before I was finally able to add “into girls.” Saying the words “I’m gay” after almost five years in the closet would have been too difficult.

My best friend Christa patiently waited, probably figuring out what I was going to say long before I said it but letting me make the difficult step. It still makes me tear up to think about what a rock she was for me in that moment and the weeks and years to follow. A couple of weeks later, we sat in her room just talking about cute celebrities. I had never been able to talk about someone I actually thought was cute until halfway through 17 – everyone else was doing it at the lunch table at 11. I remember I always said Pamela Anderson or Carmen Electra. LOL

Christa and me back in 2009.

Christa and me back in 2009.

Every single friend I came out to in Little Rock, Arkansas – where I never thought it would be okay or accepted – welcomed me with open arms. It got easier and easier as I saw my support system growing, as I was able to develop friendships I felt were open and full. No one even blinked or had second thoughts.

I got to make real change with some of these friends, putting a face to a “controversial issue” and making them realize that it’s just love and we’re just people. And even if they felt uncomfortable, even if just for a moment, they knew they loved me and they made sure I knew that too.

My family and me (in the midst of my awkward years).

My family and me (in the midst of my awkward years).

I came out to my family towards the end of 2010. They have shown me that support comes in many ways, whether it’s Brad’s crude gay jokes (how could he ever stop making fun of me after so many years of doing it just because I came out to him?), Jessica and my lunchtime gossip sessions, my dad treating me like nothing had changed or my mom’s newfound activism.

And then there was a moment over a year later where we got in an impassioned discussion about the minority experience at dinner with my grandmother, Jeanie, at the table. I was discussing how minorities have to face every new interaction cautiously and hyper-aware, and my family kept saying, “why do you feel like a minority? Do you feel like a minority because you’re Asian?” To which I, in the heat of the discussion, passionately replied, “because I’m gay!” They hadn’t thought of that, which in itself is kind of beautiful, but I said this knowing that Jeanie didn’t know.

Jeanie turned to me, grabbed my hand and told me, “that’s okay. You’re still naming your daughter after me, right?” As you can imagine, I went to the bathroom and cried for about 10 minutes.

Jeanie and me before I left back for Northwestern this winter.

Jeanie and me before I left back for Northwestern this winter.

Since then, I haven’t had to worry. It’s been easy, and I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve come a long way from a scared, lonely boy who thought he would marry a woman and get over it.

I am privileged to celebrate this Fourth (both July 4th and my fourth year!) in Washington, DC., where DOMA and Prop 8 were just struck down and where equality will one day be granted to all Americans in all states. I celebrate it with new and old friends, whether they are in Little Rock or Chicago or even London. I celebrate because today, I feel independent and proud and loved (okay and really, really cheesy and sentimental). For that, I am very thankful.

Happy Independence Day.

Forever visiting

Today is a big day for me; my friends from home are coming to visit!

393995_1454827043783_973997250_nHarriett, me, Jodi and Laura Ann over Christmas break.

I’ve been really lucky to have some incredible friends from home that I have stayed close to through the almost three years since I’ve moved to college. We talk every day; I come to visit them; they come to visit me. It’s not easy knowing that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives having to make visits to see each other rather than being in the same place, but it’s what we’ve got to do. 

This week is one of those visits, and I couldn’t be more excited! It’s a rare occurrence for them to get to come visit me in Evanston, although a few have gotten to make the trek up here at one point or another.

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Christa and Laura Ann came to visit last year and met my best friend here, Jonny.

I love getting to show them a slice of my Northwestern life, even if it is glorified (I definitely don’t go into Chicago as often as we’re about to), and introduce them to all of my friends here. It’s really cool seeing my worlds collide. My friend Jonny even came to visit me in Little Rock this summer and got to see what my home life was like (again glorified – we went to the lake!). He has really connected with my friends from home, and they’re excited to see each other!

ImageHarriett, Addi and I stayed in Evanston last summer to go to Lollapalooza.

These visits make me feel like an adult and a teenager at the same time. We’re having a blast and acting like we always have around each other, but the circumstances are much more “grown-up.” One day, this is what we’re going to be doing with our kids!

If I know anything about this week, it’s that it will go too fast. Before we know it, they’ll be packing their bags and leaving for the next big break between seeing each other. It’s the nature of visits. But I also know that there will be more to come. Although the gaps between seeing each other can drag on, the trips themselves are some of the best days of our lives.

I can’t wait to see you guys.

A Reflection on Death, Privilege, and The College Experience

A Northwestern student, Dmitri Teplov, was found dead yesterday in his dorm room, the second suicide this year. This post from NU’s normally satirical webzine Sherman Ave. hits on some important issues about mental health and standing together as a community. To those suffering with mental health issues, you are not alone.

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When I committed to Northwestern in the spring of my senior year of high school, I imagined a multitude of joys and wonders.  I wanted to make the most of my four years at college; I wanted to make dozens of amazing friends, I wanted to cherish every single piece of knowledge I could, and I wanted to find a higher sense of purpose and calling in my life.

The untimely death of my peers was not something I had included in this idealized perception of my time here.

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Three weeks back at NU + Chicago excursions

I’ve been back at Northwestern for almost three weeks now and have done quite a lot!

First and foremost, I got the internship I wanted for the summer! I will be interning in the Youth and Campus Outreach department at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in Washington, D.C.! The HRC is the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the nation; you may know it as the = sign.

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I can’t wait to live in our nation’s capital this summer and work on projects helping LGBT youth around the country! I really feel like this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Aside from that big news, I’ve been able to go into Chicago a lot more than I did last quarter. During my first week back, my friend Kristin and I saw the world premiere (literally the first performance in front of an audience) of the Big Fish musical starring Norbert Leo Butz. Honestly, I think it needs some work and am not a big fan of the music, but it was still fun to see!

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I went to a really cool coffee shop in Chicago with some friends called Metropolis Coffee to do work. It’s right off the Granville stop on the Red line and worth checking out if you’re in the area.

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It had one of the best chai lattes I’ve ever had! They also serve cupcakes from Maddiebird Bakery – my peanut butter and chocolate one was super tasty.

555844_1897906880508_627744624_nI finished an internship grant proposal for Northwestern that would really help cut some of the costs of living in D.C. this summer. It was great getting outside of Evanston to do some work and a really conducive work environment. Hopefully I’ll go back again soon!

I’ve gotten to go out a couple of times besides the usual World of Beer excursion. I went to a sorority date night (ZTA) at Linkin House last week, and last weekend was my friend Kate’s 21st birthday. She was pretty much my first friend at NU, and she, her roommate Sarah and I have stayed close since freshman year. We went with our friends Emily and Leesha to Andersonville to go bar hopping, which I have only gotten to do once in Chicago. We went to two places called Atmosphere and Hopleaf that were both really fun. We might even go back this weekend.

I also went to a Cubs game against the Giants with my housemates. It was a really nice time, and it would have been even nicer if the sun wasn’t blocked out! It was a lovely day, so I left early to go for a run. I’m one of the most unathletic people I know and am trying to do better about staying in shape. I love being outside when it’s nice anyways, so it works out pretty well. I might be dead after a run, but ultimately it feels really great.

chicago-cubs-logoI’m going home next weekend, and I’m really excited about that. I haven’t been home in almost four months and won’t be going home again until September. It’s going to be great seeing my friends and family for the weekend, and then a few of my friends have booked Megabus tickets to visit me in May!

Aside from all of that, I love my classes this quarter. I’m taking Marketing Research, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations and a really easy math class. I’m also taking a Graphic Design mini-course, which is going to be a really helpful skill to have moving forward in my career.

This weekend should be pretty exciting too; I’m going to a 21st birthday on a party yacht at Navy Pier! Crazy. And I’m seeing American Idiot in Broadway Chicago tomorrow, which stars an NU student. It’s been a pretty packed and fun few weeks!