“We are the dreamers; we are the music makers” - Willy Wonka

As children, we are awarded many stickers and participation awards. These come in varying sparkly colors and shapes, telling us that “We’re awesome!” and that "We can do it!" I think about the millions of affirmations printed every year, promoting the same message to thousands of kids who actually got tricked into believing we were all equal, and wonder who the sucker was. However, there was a difference between me and the kid next to me getting that same sticker: I threw mine away. I didn’t need validation because telling myself these messages proved far more effective than reading the glittery labels on the back of my hand.

I attended a small Montessori school from grades 6-11 before I was homeschooled. After that, I attended community college from ages 16-17, and then college again from 17 onwards. In short, I was your stereotypical socially awkward, “Too Young to Want to Befriend” kid, “Not Quite an Adult Yet” adult.

I received an interesting education from a parent that was never satisfied with the amount of work I completed or the level at which it was don seo. If you think of Miss Hannigan asking for her apartment to "shine like the top of the Chrysler building," you thought right. My parents worked during the day while I attended online lectures, which, as you can imagine, was difficult for a child between the ages of 11-15. My mother got off work in the late afternoon and would lecture from a textbook for the remainder of the evening. The first book I was assigned in middle school wasn’t “Animal Farm;” it was “The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Perhaps this was her way of telling me I might turn out to be like the title, should I veer from her curriculum.

My dad was never much into homeschooling, but my parents are divorced, and he never really had a say in my primary education. My mom is a psychotherapist and must have analyzed the "local population" before deeming that the public-school atmosphere would hinder my "mental development and aid in my moral destruction.” She also voted for Trump twice, so I’m not 100 percent sure her judgement was completely sound, but I seem to have turned out alright.

I graduated a few days after my Sweet 16, but there was no party. I celebrated my birthday by taking the last available entrance exam to a local college so that I could soon enroll there and begin my higher education. Did I get a car? No, but I did get my mother paying my entrance exam fee and a boxed-up mound of buttercream from Walmart. I drove myself to school every week after that for the next year (in her car), positively hating my existence and waiting for the day I would move up and out to a different school.

In the midst of all this, one could inquire as to my pursuits after this year of college. It was simple. My older sister aspired to be an actress, so I, of course, wanted to be an actress too. The perks of being a homeschooled student meant that I could have a semi-flexible travel schedule. If there was a part to audition for in Los Angeles, I could be there for a couple of days. Georgia? Same deal. I figured, in my young brain, that if I could get enough parts before graduation, I might establish the foundation of a career and have enough credits to get into a reputable drama program. The difference between my older sister and me, however, is that I did not want to weigh a career as a movie star against that of a waitress. So, after spending a few years as a child chasing these fantasies, I settled on journalism, which I deemed to be a practical job path.

Between theater and journalism, I had another passion that drove my academic pursuits: fashion design. I participated in several programs at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where I crafted garments out of reusable materials  and costumed a local theater company. I went to a portfolio review day for design programs at various art schools with high hopes and came out with them crushed. Due to a less traditional education, I didn’t take art classes or have an academic advisor to help me cultivate a portfolio. Confused and deterred, I abandoned the idea of art school altogether. Over the course of submitting applications, though, the idea of art school still danced around in my mind, spurred on by emails I received from schools like Pratt, stating that there was “still time to apply!”

I took my practical career theory to my mother in my sophomore year. She was thrilled and sat me down to my first SAT at age 14. I was too young to take it, so we bribed the local high school official (apparently, you can do things like that in wild and wooly southern Virginia). After that, I tested twice more before I got a score we were happy with. I had also been provided a list of writing programs to apply to: New York University, Annenberg at USC, Boston University, Emerson, American University. Being a homeschooled student also meant I had a lot of extra time on my hands: time to work on essays and get my volunteer hours in to make these applications look complete.

I remember taking a tour of the Smithsonian Art Museum in DC the day my decision letters came in from USC, Boston, and American. Afterwards, I sat in Sprinkles in Georgetown, contemplating this newfound major choice while deciding whether or not to take out my retainer in public to eat my cupcake. In that moment, I weighed my age against the practical plan I had laid out for myself and realized I just wanted to do what would excite me.

So why am I here, writing for The Prattler? Because, for once, I made the choice that would make me happy. Because one day, I received an email from Pratt Institute granting me an extension on my application. I had stumbled across Pratt in an internet search for art schools and had given my email address. They were the only art school not at that portfolio review.

That’s how, after reading the application extension email, I knew I needed to do something for myself. For most girls, that meant a day at the spa. It meant getting a haircut or going shopping. For me, it meant buying a grande black cup of coffee with one pump of peppermint and sitting down to fill out one last application. I got it in with less than 15 minutes to spare, and it was in that moment that I pledged to myself, no matter how few scholarships I was given or how many extenuating circumstances surrounding my acceptance there were, if God willing they accepted me, I would go.

I got into Pratt on my 17th birthday, and I had never felt more elated. It was as though I was suddenly showered in those sparkly stickers saying "I did it;” only this time, it actually felt that way. That was the day that possibilities opened up for me and I finally felt a sense of freedom. I looked at the opportunity to attend Pratt Institute as something new and exciting, and, like I promised before, no matter if I loved or hated it, I would see the four years through.

So, I’m doing that right now.

-

Illustration by Tien Servidio

The weeks leading up to the election were fraught with embittered discourse, stirrings of unrest, rampant increases in COVID-19 infections and rises in hate-based crimes that included the defacing of Jewish cemeteries with swastikas and MAGA graffiti. This sense of dread was compounded by the devastating loss of the patriarch of the Golden family, my grandfather Donald. This marked the second time in a stretch of six months that my family sat shiva, the Jewish period of mourning, through a Zoom screen. With my work-life balance constantly in flux, and my own sense of being trapped on an infinite treadmill of bleak reality, I asked myself, “Is it okay to laugh right now?”

Then two Jews walked into a bar...

And said, “Fuck yeah.”

This could only be the work of two eccentric comedians whose manic energy belies a nuanced sense of zen control and genius: Sacha Baron Cohen and Eric Andre. Of the duo, Andre is more of a cult favorite, lacking a massive mainstream hit like “Borat” but winning the late-night viewers of Adult Swim with his truly bizarre eponymous “talk show.” A hybrid interview/surrealist torture program interspersed with man-on-the-street pranks, “The Eric Andre Show” premiered its fifth season in October. It’s been four long years since Andre took a hiatus after the 2016 election, and the strength of the election-centric bits left fans like myself clamoring for more.

Andre’s ability to expose the latent anger below the surface of some of his marks is secondary only to his willingness to say and do the most banal thing possible in any given situation. At the 2016 RNC, he fought his way through a rally of Hell’s Angels for Trump to get onstage with right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Mistaken by Jones for Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show,” a “left-Wing Pentagon weapon,” Andre stood beside Jones and his fervent crowd of armed supporters, who expected an impassioned liberal argument from a political pundit. Instead, Andre cast his eyes downward and muttered in a plaintive tone, “I want you to have sex with my wife.” Instantly eliciting boos and slurs from the throng, Andre was shoved offstage and pushed to the ground. A disgruntled MAGA-hat-wearing man spat in his face, shouting, “You’re not Martin Luther King!” Andre’s response: “Coachella sucks this year.”

In the interim between seasons of the show, I saw Eric Andre perform live in September of 2019; the set was captured in the “Legalize Everything” standup special, but no filmmaker can truly capture the manic energy that seized the room. For the first time in my life, I laughed so hard that I started choking on my tears, and the crowd seemed to agree with my response. Andre called up two audience members to chug entire bottles of ranch, demanding that the winner initiate a freestyle rap only to pull his pants down midway through to unveil his entirely waxed body. He explained this “new look” was designed for an as-yet-unannounced fifth season of his show.

After a year of anticipation, Andre does not disappoint; his revamped show features a glitzy new set, a new house band and a set of new pranks that evoke an earlier time in New York’s history, turning familiar city locations into surrealist hellscapes. Nearly every bit is a winner, but Andre has devised a set of new pranks centered around his Jewish upbringing. Clad in a typical Hasid outfit and fake beard, he whispers to passerby, “It’s my last day as a Hasid. I don’t care anymore,” as he eats a bagel with cream cheese and pantomimes injecting the mumps vaccine. In a similar vein, he builds a scale model of a park bench and paints his face white as “the bench mensch,” who offers unhelpful advice to city movers and struggles to remain mobile. It’s a refreshingly self-deprecating, cartoonish look at some of the staples of Jewish life in the city, and it doesn’t punch down. Andre always makes himself the butt of the joke, humiliating himself and redirecting anger towards his outlandish costuming and persona. Taken by this approach to street-based, hidden camera comedy, I decided to explore the work of Sacha Baron Cohen, who revolutionized the genre with 2006’s “Borat” and repeated the trick in 2020’s sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

I was late to the “Borat” parade and decided to watch both films as a double feature. A proper review of both would entail an in-depth look at the Bush years, the touchy politics of Cohen selecting the real-life nation of Kazakhstan as the scapegoat for many of his punchlines, the evolving state of media and political correctness between the Bush and Trump years and the bizarrely touching feminist subplots of the sequel. Instead, I’d like to emphasize Cohen’s somewhat undersung role as an advocate for Jews through the ironic lens of his character Borat’s rampant antisemitism.

In the “Borat” sequel, the protagonist must infiltrate a synagogue to track down the whereabouts of his daughter. The character dons a ludicrously anti-Semitic costume, with a long, red nose, prosthetic horns and dollar bills dangling from his fingers on marionette strings. An elderly woman in mid-prayer, Judith Dim Evans, receives Borat with empathy and a wealth of understanding. She points to her button nose and says, “Look at my nose. I am Jewish. Is my nose long?” When Borat questions the existence of the Holocaust after consuming right-wing Facebook articles, Evans points to the concentration camp numbers tattooed on her arm. Borat is terrified of this woman, but she disarms and eventually embraces him, giving him the strength to continue his journey. In the context of the film, this scene is played for laughs, but I found my eyes welling with tears. In an era where Holocaust denial is stunningly prominent and anti-Semitic hate crimes still ravage local communities, Borat’s interaction with Evans (who has since passed) offered a moment of catharsis. It also reminded me of my grandparents.

Baron Cohen was instrumental in bringing attention to Facebook’s implicit allowance of Holocaust denial and Nazi-centric content on the platform. His scathing indictment in a rare non-comedic speech targeted Mark Zuckerberg as a traitor to marginalized people and one of the most dangerous men in the world. Cohen argued, "If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant, a private business, be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not. The restaurant owner has every legal right—and indeed, I would argue, a moral obligation—to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies." His later ridicule of Zuckerberg’s appearance and Julius Caesar haircut did little to dull the severity of his barb. In the aftermath, Facebook eventually banned Holocaust denial content; Twitter has yet to follow suit. Andre has similarly “broken character” to chat with fellow Jewish comedian Ilana Glazer of “Broad City” fame to advocate for voter registration and protest police brutality in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s nothing to laugh about.

But somehow, both Andre and Baron Cohen appealed to my sense of Jewish identity, the most banal and shameful crevices of their depravity, and both the best and worst that humanity has to offer when faced with insanity in the streets in real time. Somehow, in the midst of a bleak era of misery, Andre and Baron Cohen still brought their A-game. They’ve been a huge help in easing the period of sheloshim (mourning) as I try to focus less on the absence of my grandfather’s presence and recall happier times we shared. Times like risking an hour delay in his commute home to talk to an eager Hasidic man, or his recitations of his favorite Rodney Dangerfield bits and firm protocols on how to properly consume Nathan’s hotdogs and fries we shared. I remember his toothy grin and his insistence that in spite of any number of tragedies, our lives could and would be joyous someday.

And I start to laugh again.

-

Illustration by Aidan Moyer

What would it be like if the moment we turned 18, a switch turned on from “child” to “adult?” Suddenly, we would know how to do our taxes, cook our meals and make medical appointments by ourselves. Turning 18 typically means moving to college, living away from home for the first time and learning the science of microwavable meals. I first moved away to attend a boarding school when I was 15. By the time I got to Pratt, I thought I would know more about the ins and outs of being independent. I was sorely mistaken.

As children, the idea of growing up is something that is enforced on us in a more positive way (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”) and in a more negative way as well (“Grow up, dude!”). The act of “growing up” is put on a pedestal as some kind of achievable award. I think of my 13-year-old self and how I looked up to those who seemed to have their life together. My heart breaks for that girl who cried in her bedroom all of the time, crippled by insecurities and fear, looking at these adults sipping cocktails and striking up conversations with strangers. I wondered if that girl would ever be able to absorb even an ounce of that contentment. Now, as I prepare to turn 22, I find myself scratching my head, looking around at my unmade bed and burnt dinner and wondering if I somehow missed an exit sign leading to the Promised Land.

COVID-19 has forced twenty-somethings everywhere to confront the reality of their adulthood. We were dancing with carefree routines, and the record-scratch of the pandemic made us realize just how much responsibility we actually have. In March, the hurricane of having to uproot our lives and keep up with what was happening to our jobs, classes, plans, peers and homes came crashing down. Many of us had to retreat back to our childhood homes and stare at the paint colors we chose when we were 11. Many of us had to reflect on our place in this world. The sinking feeling we experienced when we realized the place we once called home could never really be home again, coupled with the dawning observation that it’s now our responsibility to determine what “home” means to us, leaves us in a limbo of craving belonging. Most days, I try to turn off that voice in my head nagging that I need to be doing something other than pulling the covers over my head and distracting myself by looking at memes, but that voice never seems to go away.

I know I can’t let that stop me forever, though. Even though the pressure remains ever present, for a few moments, I can look around and see some aspects of who I am now that would have made that 13-year-old proud. I see my current relationships evolve past the idealistic middle school fantasies and into more genuine, fulfilling ones. I see myself attend four back-to-back meetings and still be able to make it for happy hour with my friends. I see myself plan my days out, try new recipes for my own enjoyment and choose my outfits according to my own style. I see myself think independently, say ‘yes’ to new adventures and pick myself back up time and time again. For a moment, that feeling of accomplishment, no matter how temporary or miniscule it may be, is one of irreplaceable pride.

I used to doubt if I could qualify as an adult because of all the uncertainty I have in my life. Perhaps that in itself is an indicator of someone who is an adult: someone who acknowledges the ups and downs and in-betweens as part of this cycle. Someone who will be honest about the failures and successes. Someone who is scared of growing up but will continue to try anyway.

-

Illustration by Dev Kamath

On October 22, the Pratt Institute student body received an email with the most straightforward subject yet: “Academic Updates for Spring 2021.” The email announced, unsurprisingly, that Pratt would remain hybrid for the spring semester. The email also announced that study abroad programs would remain on hiatus, and spring break has been swapped out for “Wellness Days,” meaning the spring semester begins January 19 and ends May 11. Of course, as the email states, “Our world is just not ready...yet.”

Despite this unsurprising announcement, the response to online education is almost unanimously in agreement: it’s draining. The Washington Post recently published an article titled “College Students are weary of ‘Zoom U.’ But they’re also trying to make the best of it.” Though it tries to be in good spirits, the article uses statistics, such as from The National Survey of Student Engagement, which shows a 14% decline in student engagement since starting online school. In addition to this, the article also discusses the decline in the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s enrollment rate as an example: of the 13,200 students enrolled prior to the pandemic, only 10,000 returned this fall for online school.

College students all across America are asking themselves the same question: Do they want to take the semester off? Instead of being angry at Pratt’s decision, Pratt students are now scrambling to envision themselves taking a semester off. To take time off from art school adds an extra pressure of trying to figure out how you can keep up an artistic practice during a pandemic. This leaves us all slightly more uninspired, but now without access to studios and proper time to devote to building skills.

In addition to the fear of losing inspiration, there is also the imminent fact that taking time off is an inherent privilege. Nande Walters, pre-COVID BFA film class of 2022, was lucky enough to find work at FranklinCovey, a Utah based company that specializes in training other companies in how to treat their employees and build trust. Others have taken jobs at coffee shops or Blick Art Materials, though this is not something every Pratt student has chosen to do. When I asked peers who had already chosen to take time off about how they were spending the time and how it felt to do so, the responses I got were primarily based in privilege and the economic comfort of never worrying about access to basic necessities. In every college community, there is generally a vast wealth disparity that this pandemic has forced to come to light, and asking students from Pratt Institute was no exception. When it comes to those who stayed in my own personal friend group, the decision to stay or go remains divided. There were plenty of factors we have each weighed differently: whether or not we ourselves could afford it, when we would get our degrees and what it meant to take time off.

Nande Walters


Nande Walters decided a leave of absence was in order after the Willoughby Residence Hall chose to rescind opening its doors this August. Many Pratt students who are in need of on-campus housing made the exact same decision, as did many Resident Advisors who were unenthused at the idea of participating in Zoom antics rather than a normal academic experience.

Walters currently resides with her parents in Southern Florida, and spends her time working a remote job as well as planning, editing, promoting and networking for her self-started creative online platform, Kickback Shows. Kickback first began in June, and consists of interviews and Project Spotlights, which showcase a variety of art from different mediums. The project is dedicated to sharing peers’ art in lieu of a classroom. On the homepage, Walters writes, “I missed being inspired by my friends, so I created Kickback.” Its growth was rapid, and on August 1, Kickback debuted a Summer 2020 Film Screening, which primarily consisted of Pratt student’s work.

In a recent conversation, Walters informed me that Yessenia Sanchez, one of the main orientation leaders at Pratt, got in touch with her about hosting a film screening. After receiving 30 submissions, it was decided that it would be best for the screening to be split into two nights, furthering its success and the dedication to it. It was an attempt to boost morale and inspire students, even if they weren’t deciding to return to the school in the coming semester. It took place over Zoom with over twenty attendees and is available to watch on Kickback’s YouTube channel.

Poster by Jamison Lung


Personally, I’m also considering taking time off, so I asked Walters about her relationship with Pratt during this separation. She did not hesitate in telling me how grateful she was to still be involved with the Pratt community despite her decision. Head of the Pratt Writing Department  Beth Loffreda echoed the sentiment during a phone call about my tentative leave of absence. I was promised that no matter my decision, the Pratt community would “always be there for me.” I could feel how true it was.

When it comes to taking time off, Walters considers it a “blessing in disguise,” and informed me that instead of having too much time on her hands, she doesn’t have nearly enough.

“I want to devote more of winter to rest and relaxation!” Walters told me, overwhelmed with how busy she’s become with Kickback. If anything, she’s grateful for the time she's been able to take off and how it’s given her the chance to explore artistic platforms that aren’t film. These mediums have influenced what she wants her life to become, even if she doesn’t have the answer to that question yet.

It’s true that Nande is most likely the exception to the rule when it comes to being busy during time off amidst a pandemic. Many have scrambled to find work in the city, while others have stayed at home on unemployment. However, Nande’s story should be a beacon of hope to those calculating their next academic move: you might take the time to learn more about yourself than you ever anticipated. It might be scary, but it may be worth embracing too.

Of course, does Nande miss Pratt and New York City?

“Without a doubt,” she states. “There was nothing I was more excited about than returning to New York, but the world hasn’t magically repaired itself yet.”

-

Photos courtesy of Nande Walters and Jamison Lung

FEATUREDthoughtscommunitycolumns
thoughts
see all
see all
community
Columns