Humans of Carleton creator Thomas Hiura ‘17 says that if there were one question someone should ask to get to know him, it would be what his top ten favorite rap albums are. “If somebody asked me that question and I gave them the answer, they would understand me…if they know rap.”
Hiura, who is used to being the one asking the questions, sat down with me to talk about his recent project, a Facebook page that has garnered over 2,000 likes since its inception a month ago.
“I saw that my friend who I met at Williams College and Swarthmore College when we prospied at those schools posted about how her Humans of Williams page had reached 1,000 likes, and I was like, what the heck is Humans of Williams? I went to her page and checked it out, and I was just really moved by this format for storytelling. I thought it was really exciting, and I had not heard of the Humans of New York page, and I checked that out. I breezed through 300 of the Humans of New York pictures and read all of them and decided, well, I have a camera. Last term I had this camera on campus, and I took 50 pictures or something, you know, I barely took any pictures.
I wanted to take more pictures and play with my camera more and so I asked her how she did it at Williams, and I decided to try to do it here as well.”
In the beginning, Hiura sought out acquaintances as subjects. “At first, I was kind of just approaching people who I vaguely knew or wanted to know a little bit better, and it gave me a good excuse to talk to them and ask them questions […] It was a good outlet for me to do that because my biggest passion in life is people, and meeting people and learning about people and so, I was starting to do that. I created the page. I posted those stories.”
“And then,” he says, “it exploded.”
When the page took off, Hiura no longer had to actively seek out people to interview. “I put a blurb at the top of the page saying I accept requests for interviews and people mostly started requesting their friends. But some people said I’d like to share a story and I said ‘OK, let’s sit down and have a conversation.’ So I meet with people and I get to have cool conversations with amazing people – because there are so many amazing people here at Carleton. It’s great. Mostly, some of the best ones have come from people saying, ‘Hey, my friend is really awesome’ or, ‘You should interview this person because they’re so cool and nice,’ and so I send an email to that person and I say, ‘Hey, somebody thinks you’re really cool and would like for me to talk to you for my project I’m doing.’”
According to Hiura, everyone he’s reached out to has agreed to talk to him.
As for how he gets them to share something good, Hiura admits, “In some situations, it can be kind of awkward to say, “Well, we have a half hour here—tell me the deepest secrets of your life.’ So one thing I do to make people feel comfortable is I tell them my story first. That usually takes almost 20 minutes because it’s a long story […] I’m not good at condensing it.” Hiura made it clear that he respects however much his interviewees decide to share with him.
Hiura says he is “very attached” to each of the stories he’s shared on Humans of Carleton.
This was evident when he talked about his conversation with senior Brie Farley. “I probably would not have met [Farley] if my floormate Erin Wilson hadn’t suggested that I interview her. I sat down with Brie, and she was so friendly and so nice. We were just having a very surface level conversation […] very friendly, very upbeat, and then I was like, ‘ok, I need to dig deeper on this one.’ So I told her my story, and she was really, really empathetic towards hearing it. Then, she told me her whole story about her superhero mom who battled with cancer for something like eight or ten years and eventually passed away. That story was really special for me to hear in person, but then later I was transcribing it […] It was five in the morning, and I was super exhausted and hadn’t gone to bed yet. I started listening to it again, and I just started crying. It was just so beautiful to hear her talking about her mom.”
The timing of Hiura’s post of Brie Farley’s story turned out to be fortuitous. “I knew that one was special, and I sat on it for a while until I felt it was the right time. I posted it last Friday…it was about how she was dealing with the passing of her mom. Later that evening our community found out that we would have to deal with similar things.”
Hiura responded to our recent loss by accepting submissions of stories about Adams, Goodgame, and Harvieux.
He plans to move forward with “business as usual” Humans of Carleton by sharing his story. “I had wanted to save it for a while and keep it to myself and only share it on a one-on-one level […] I’ve come to realize that sometimes life is short and you can never take for granted that you’re just going to be here every day.”
If there’s one thing that becomes obvious upon talking to Hiura, it’s that he is passionate about creating community for others. Through the project, he says, “I feel like I’ve started to fulfill more of my purpose in being here […] Carleton admitted me because they believed I would bring something to this community outside of my papers and my schoolwork. And that’s true for everybody. They want everybody to make contributions to this community. They don’t accept people just based on numbers. [...] The admissions office trusted me to do well here as a student but also trusted me to be somewhat of a community builder. And this project has been the most effective way that I have done that so far here. I’ll be perfectly honest: I want to do everything. I want to be Matthew Fitzgerald. I want to be the CSA president, and I want to be friends with every person on this campus, and I want to just go around and hug people for entire days at a time. That’s not so feasible with all the schoolwork and stuff, but this has been a good way to feel like I’m doing something.”
He may not be able to do everything, but he’ll do his best. In addition to Humans of Carleton, he’s involved with the Student Band Union, plays in a band on campus, and was in Man Dance for Ebony II. Hiura will serve as a Class of 2017 representative on the CSA starting spring term where he hopes to use his “communication skills to bridge the gap between the CSA’s activities and what the student body knows and show that there’s strong, two-way communication there.”
And that’s not all. “I applied to be an R.A.. I want to be an R.A. next year. Really, really, badly. And I want to live on a predominantly first year floor and help people make the transition to Carleton.“
Community builder, indeed. “I’m always going to know how to be happy. I’m always going to know how to find fulfillment and meaning in my life, but not everybody has that. What’s most important to me is trying to help as many people find what makes them happy and be there for others and inspire others. If I’m not doing that, what am I really doing?”