Atop a desk resides a mug with brushes in it that have specks of paint residue on the tip of the bristles. Alongside the painting materials, sits Kiely Lam, President of Associated Students (AS) and avid painter.
“Everyone in third grade wanted be a doctor or lawyer, but I wanted to be a tattoo artist,” said Lam, laughing at the dichotomy of what she expressed. “In my life, painting has been the only consistent thing where I could track and see my progress.”
On her desk, not only does she have paint brushes but also other materials lying around such as acrylic paints, white gesso and a canvas. Though many students on campus know her as an advocate for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, Lam is just another student who enjoys to paint and is finding creative ways to manage her stress.
“Art was one of the first things I saw myself learning,” said Lam. “No matter what my major was, I always had to [take] an art class because I knew that is what would keep me sane.”
Sane is a bold way to put it but as a student heavily involved at PCC, there isn’t another way to describe how much painting helps Lam manage her hectic schedule. Aside from being AS President, Lam has focused much of her time on Ethnic Studies, her intended major.
“It’s interesting when people meet me or see me, the assumptions they think they can make about me just because I look Asian,” said Lam. “Then [people] talk to me and realize I’m only half Chinese [and also] Mexican.”
Growing up, Lam never quite understood why it was difficult for people to accept that she was different from what they perceived her to be. This rather complex perception surrounding her motivated Lam to switch majors from Business Administration to Ethnic Studies.
“Coming into college, [it’s been interesting] seeing how those assumptions and thoughts are translated into how people are expected to do academically,” said Lam. “I feel like I challenge what society is telling people [how] I should act.”
It’s not easy to challenge a system to think differently but that doesn’t hinder Lam from introducing another way to talk about diversity and pursuing higher education. Back when Lam was Vice President of Cultural Diversity, she planned her first event around the “educational journeys of people of color” called LIT, a savvy acronym for Learn, Inspire, and Transfer.
“The research and discussions I had to plan that event sparked an excitement in Ethnic Studies for me,” said Lam.
As a person who values community, the forum Lam planned helped her understand her educational goals and the different people she could reach out to if she ever needed help. When she was younger, Lam didn’t have a community she felt she belonged to.
“I went through this internal dilemma a lot where I wasn’t Asian enough for the Asian kids or Mexican enough for Mexican kids, so how else would I identify myself with?”
It wasn’t until she joined competitive cheerleading, that Lam finally felt like there was a way she could communicate with others not with words and culture but with trust and leadership.
“[My coaches and cheer team] were able to see me for my skill level and dedication to the sport rather than by what they see [externally],” said Lam.
Though she was involved in competitive cheerleading for 10 years, Lam never thought of herself as competitive but rather self-motivated.
“Competitive means that you are focused on what other people are doing but I don’t really do that,” said Lam. “I’m kind of more focused on what I’m doing and why I’m doing things.”
As a student, it can often be arduous to stay focused when there are various tasks to stay on top of such as maintaining a high GPA or calculating personal finances. Lam continues to manage the chaos of college not because she is a responsible student but because she is dedicated and has found a purpose.
One of Lam’s biggest dreams is to open a non-profit organization for students in K-12 to find resources that will help them get through school and be encouraged to pursue higher education, something Lam deems important for young students to achieve.
“For students who are in high school and are going through struggles, who’s going to be there to support them?” said Lam. “I want to provide a space where students can get support and [are encouraged] to pursue higher education.”
There is that quote that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and though Lam may be young, she is taking steps to do just that.