From seniors to citizens: Come out whistling

Graphic by Aiden Menchaca / The Tufts Daily

Senior spring to social security. On the hill to over the hill. Graduation to … grandchildren? Here’s what seniors have to say before all is said and done.

During his internship last summer at a local district attorney’s office, Tong Liu met a veteran prosecutor whose energy defied his graying hair.

“He just reveled in his work, and if that’s me in the future, I would be happy with that,” Liu noted.

That lawyer, long in the tooth and youthful in disposition, had reached what Liu terms “anecdote age,” the point in life when it becomes acceptable to start stories with the phrase, “Back in my day…”

For Liu, many of those tales will revolve around his time at Tufts. Take, for instance, the campus tour that started it all:

“The snow was three quarters of the way up my calf, and the winds were howling on upper campus,” Liu said. “My friends who came with me were complaining bitterly about how frickin’ cold it was, and yet that was the school I went with, and I feel like that says a lot about the place … Just being able to ride through crises with great people at Tufts, I think that’s been what really makes Tufts stand out in my mind.”

In normal years, upper campus plays host to the culminating ceremony for the Tufts senior class. This year, upper campus might host coronavirus patients.

“One of the biggest draws of graduation [for me] is … playing in the graduation commencement band, and maybe this time doing it with a robe on,” said Liu, who played trumpet in the Tufts University Wind Ensemble.

A double major in international relations and history, Liu grew up near Boston and will attend law school in the city. While he might not get to don traditional graduation garb in the short run, his long-term plans hold the possibility of another type of robe.

“Hopefully, if things work out well, I end up on the bench as a judge,” Liu said.

Despite his desire to wield a gavel someday, Liu believes that he could also find fulfillment as a lifelong prosecutor.

“The common interpretation of prosecutors is that they [hit] hard against people that have historically been marginalized, and I want to be able to push back on that narrative with how I handle things,” he said.

Never one to hit hard, Liu has established himself at Tufts as a gentle mentor. He has served for three years as an first-year advisor in Miller Hall, led the wind ensemble’s trumpet section and guided newer members of Tufts Mock Trial. His influence might never span the globe, but he said, “I’ve always liked the idea of being well-known within a local circle.”

Copious quantities of tea have sustained Liu through his career at Tufts, and once he transitions into the courtroom, his steaming thermos of oolong tea will become synonymous with his penchant for justice. Colleagues will toast his level-headed fairness, and what will Liu do?

“I will definitely have the kettle ready [after a trial] for a celebratory drink,” he said.

Moving forward, Liu aims for the humble legacy that pianist Duke Ellington attributed to trumpeter Louis Armstrong: “[he] was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way.”

Liu hopes for a richness of experience, not a material richness. When he arrives at anecdote age, he wants to speak of his time with a smile on his face. He said that, much like his beloved teapots, “If you look at things from a positive viewpoint, you tend to come out whistling.”