With a double-major in Math and Interdisciplinary Physics, Charlemagne McHaffie (B.S. ’18) is moving to D.C. to study security policy at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Since graduating, he has spent time in Ann Arbor, hanging out with friends and preparing for his transition. Before starting this next adventure, he took some time to share his reflections on U-M, the liberal arts, and breakfast at South Quad.
One of benefits of studying math and physics is the problem solving mindset you develop. You learn to go about things in a very methodical way. I’ve found that the skills they teach you in math, in particular writing proofs, have been really helpful in my writing. The skill-set is also really applicable. I applied for a job that had coding as a required skill, and felt confident. My friends may read that and laugh. By no means am I a real coder.
I loved learning about probability. Philosophically, it’s really cool to know all of these facts. If I had to take a quantum mechanics final right now I’d probably bomb it, but you know, having an idea in your head about “this is how it works” is really cool.
The best spot on campus to study changed each year for me. My sophomore year, I discovered the medical library and I thought, “This place is just gorgeous and so nice and tucked away.” I’d go there all the time to study, but then by the end of the year, it had too many negative connotations. I had been stressed-out too much there, and never wanted to go back.
I was involved with rugby when I first started school, but then I was part of the Polish club, even though I’m not Polish. I found them at Festifall yelling, “Come make pierogies with us tomorrow.” I told them I wasn’t Polish, and they said they didn’t care and that I should come anyway. I ended up hanging out with them for a semester or so.
I actually hate needles. I hate getting pricked, it’s horrible to me. I was involved with Blood Battle for three years and so it’s kind of ironic. I joined because my sophomore year I was getting angst-y about not really doing anything for people. I was just kind of existing, and I wanted to find something that would have an immediate impact.
One of the first mistakes I made at U-M was not being active in looking for an internship. One of my flaws is that when something’s stressing me out, I just ignore it, which makes the problem worse. That’s what I did with internships for four years.
When I discovered that there is a difference between knowing something intellectually to be true, and knowing it on a gut level, I looked at people differently. One of the moments that really hit me was when I learned that there are dishonest and selfish people in the world that really don’t think about other people’s feelings. On the flip side, it’s surprising to see the people who come through for you. There are people who will let you down, but there are also people who will pleasantly surprise you.
I don’t know what the liberal arts is because I haven’t heard anything that’s not the liberal arts. Whenever I hear talk about a liberal arts degree, I’m like, “What’s not a liberal arts degree?” Not only do I think it’s important, but I couldn’t imagine college without it. Had I not had distribution requirements, I wouldn’t have taken some of my favorite classes.
If I could have lunch with one LSA professor it would be Andrei Markovits. I took a class of his about Germany since 1945, and we have a lot of overlapping interests regarding post-WWII development. I’d want to have “what-if” conversations with him, like What if the British and Americans had arrived at Berlin first? How would Stalin have reacted?
At the beginning of college I had breakfast everyday. My sophomore year I lived in South Quad and had a really good hall. It was just a lot of fun. I would wake up, all my friends would be around, and we’d go down to the dining hall and have breakfast. The cinnamon raisin bagels there are really unique. I’d go home for break and miss them, thinking, “I can’t wait to go back to school for my cinnamon raisin bagel.”
The weirdest thing in my house was my dad’s pair of old, neon-yellow compression shorts. I went home over winter break, and when I found them, I told him I was keeping them. I brought them back and wore them for Halloween one year.
On special occasions, I’d go to Madras Masala. Their buffet is one thing, but their dinner menu is just fantastic. My favorite dish is their chicken saag.
I was disappointed when Mojo stopped underbaking their cookies. They used to be really good because they would only bake them halfway.
I would tell my first-year self to be a little bit more aloof. Don’t try so hard to make friends, hold on to friends, or make relationships work. Put effort into it, but don’t force it. I’d also say to make the most of social opportunities, because as much as it seems like you’re always around people, when you graduate you’re going to miss the chances you had to spend time with your good friends.
I find myself contemplating the idea of detaching yourself. A friend from APO (a community service fraternity) sent along an excerpt from Tuesdays with Morrie that helped me realize that you shouldn’t tell yourself to not feel something. Let the emotion wash over you and feel it. Absorb it. After a while, wake-up and acknowledge that you’ve felt this, and now it’s time to let go.