I am the girl running around the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) campus, a Canon T2i slung over my shoulder and tripod gripped at my hip. I am here first and foremost to learn dentistry, but every once in a while, I also have the distinct privilege of taking portraits for my classmates, meeting up with my medical, nursing, pharmacy and physical therapy counterparts, listening to strangers’ stories and otherwise waltzing around campus as the “Humans of UCSF” columnist. What started off as a simple passion for photography and desire to get involved with the school newspaper developed into a greater vision for maintaining a platform through which our student, faculty and staff voices could be heard.
Humans of UCSF was inspired by Brandon Stanton’s highly-celebrated work, Humans of New York (HONY), a compilation of portraits and interviews from passersby on the streets of New York City. I was moved by the meaningful stories shared on that platform and spurred on by the diversity in the city of San Francisco. This inspired me to set off on a journey to unify, celebrate and represent my campus in snapshots and testimonies.
Each encounter with a new “human” of UCSF has impacted me. When I first started the project, I asked people to share what was most meaningful to them: a story that would announce to the world, “This is who I am.” But gradually, I progressed towards asking for anecdotes, a comment about the event they were attending or even a random thought on their mind. I realized that even the smallest truths, struggles and triumphs of their lives were equally important to share. My experience writing and photographing for Humans of UCSF has left me with the simple takeaway that everyone has a story. Whether you are my colleague, my professor, my best friend or my patient – you have a story to share. It’s been such a joy documenting these stories and giving a spotlight to the amazing individuals here.
Here are some of my favorites:
“School has always been a privilege for me. I always think about how I want to do my best because I want it to be worth the efforts my family has put forth. Being undocumented at sixteen created a lot of barriers, but when I am able to overcome them, I feel so much stronger. That being said, I don’t want to be identified by my immigration status. When people see me, I want them to see me for my actions. I’d like to be known as someone you can rely on and remembered for my dedication to supporting others.” – Laura Aguilar, San Francisco ’19
“The superhero mythology gives us a way of expressing that need to be able to protect, to excel and to inspire. One of my favorite heroes growing up was Superman. His story is one of freedom and carving your destiny, of taking your individual talents and doing your best with it. He has a good heart and he strives to make the world a better place. This principle applies to my fellow dental school classmates as we focus our passion for people and interest in science towards positive change. I can’t think of a finer ambition in life. Superman represents hope and the ability to conquer adversity against all odds. Hope plays a significant part throughout our lives. Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” – Christian Santa Maria, San Francisco ’19
“CDA Cares is a bi-annual event aimed to serve populations that do not have access to dental care. This was my second time volunteering in the prosthodontics department at CDA Cares and it has been a wonderful experience on both occasions… At CDA Cares, the focus is not only on reducing disease but also prevention of disease and restoring smiles. In the prosthodontics department, patients who have teeth extracted and those missing all their teeth leave with a brand new smile… The tears of joy and hugs that are shared after patients receive their new smile is a beautiful experience and will keep me coming back to help with CDA Cares year after year.” – Raion Sabo, San Francisco ’17
~ Emily Yang, San Francisco ’19, District 11 Secretary