Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lake Cuyamaca

Post-grad life.

The summer where you blow every penny you have scrupulously saved over the past four years from your minimum wage campus job. The last summer of living in reckless abandon, before the reality of the "real world" consumes you, before the chains of adulthood shackle you.
Lake Cuyamaca was the start of what I will dub my "post-grad summer" and in all honesty, there is no better way to start the post-grad summer than with your childhood friends.
I learned how to start a bonfire, which was absurdly hard to start. It makes me wonder how wildfires ignite so quickly...
We cooked a delicious combination of canned soup, Taiwanese noodles, and Louisiana hot sausages on the gas stove. After so many years of trial and error, we have developed an amazing camping cuisine: bonfire roasted sausages, baked potatoes, Indonesian ramen, canned soup, iced watermelon, Pillsbury crescent roll with honey, chips, and fruit snacks.
Our pathetic little fire from our first night, before we discovered the beauty of using pine needles and pine cones as tinder. A heap of pine needles in the bonfire results in a spectacularly explosive fire, satisfying our inner pyromaniacs.
Nature is absolutely breathtaking. For a city girl, nature is a breath of fresh air. I love the tranquility from living amongst a sea of green. I love lying down at night in the middle of the road and staring into the pitch-black starlit sky.

I even appreciate the night hikes where we ascended 1,700 feet  within a distance of 2.2 miles. Yes, my gluteus maximus is still protesting the treacherous incline on that hiking trial.
Our campsite was conveniently situated near Lake Cuyamaca, a prime location for fishing and boating. I spent the afternoon admiring the scenes of Lake Cuyamaca with my friend, who will be relocating to Long Island, New York to begin her medical school journey this July.

I had always fervently championed beaches but now, I'm starting to reconsider. Lakes are... kind of amazing. When I'm old and retired, I would love to reside in a lakeside home enveloped by a forest of trees.

We fished for three  hours at Lake Cuyamaca and caught absolutely nothing. Thank God for our bachelor degrees because otherwise, we would starve. Meanwhile, other families near us were catching fish left and right.

The view from our tent during a midday nap.

Fishing with my friend, the stripper cowboy fisherman.

Ninja training camp in the forest where we honed our kunai-throwing skills.

This might be the last time I see these people for a very long time. While some friends will remain in Los Angeles, some will be in New York for the foreseeable future, others in Boston, one in Japan, and one with strong aspirations to leave southern California for medical school.

In retrospect, we seriously overreacted after our high school graduation, when it dawned on us that we wouldn't be congregated in Walnut anymore. Our college years would scatter us all around southern and northern California and even to the reaches of Evanston, Illinois. Once upon a time, not long ago, we were mere middle schoolers lost in the grips of suburbia and love triangles.

Is it bad that I'm slightly disappointed by the fact that I'm still in southern California after all of these years? There's a part of me that yearns to be in a new city, to explore new sights. I truly thought that I would be attending dental school somewhere on the east coast this fall. But life has a weird sense of humor - it only granted me dental school interviews on the west coast. So Los Angeles it is for the next four years...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

USC Class of 2012

Last May, I attended the International Relations/Political Science/History commencement ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium. A friend of mine was graduating with a degree in global business and I thought it would be fun to experience a graduation ceremony. You know, like a practice run for the real thing. Yet midway through the ceremony, a wave of panic spread across me.

"I don't want to attend my graduation ceremony next year," I whispered frantically to my now ex-boyfriend as I watched the graduation proceedings.

He thought I was positively insane. Who doesn't want to attend their graduation ceremony?

It wasn't just the nauseating thought of sitting through the longest graduation ceremony of my life while waiting for all 2,049,720,394,293 biology majors to receive their diplomas. More than that, I knew that I definitely wasn't going to graduate as class valedictorian, or salutatorian, or even summa cum laude for that matter. I had a coin toss chance of graduating cum laude. I wasn't going to graduate with departmental honors, wasn't a renaissance scholar, and probably wasn't going to be nominated for any scholarships or awards. By all asian standards, I was considered a "failure".

I could picture my parents at graduation, bombarding me with the usual questions:

"Why weren't you valedictorian?"

"Why didn't you receive any departmental honors?"

"Why don't you have a 4.0 GPA?"

But they surprised me at commencement. Instead of the look of disappointment that accompanies their daughter not being the best of the best, they actually acted proud of me. Proud that I had received my bachelors degree, proud that I was wearing my graduation regalia, and proud that I had graduated from the University of Southern California. No, I wasn't valedictorian (my roommate took that honor, graduating as the valedictorian of Viterbi School of Engineering - I even got a shoutout in her valedictory speech!). Yet even as I regaled my parents about how my roommate was super smart, graduating with a nearly perfect GPA, and was the valedictorian of Viterbi, my mom paid me a compliment.

"How many people are accepted to USC dental school each year?" she asked.

"They accept 144 students each year", I replied.

"Wow, my daughter is so smart," my mom complimented me, smiling.

"No, not really mom," I replied, "but thanks for your vote of confidence".
So graduation turned out to be a less sordid affair than I predicted. Actually, graduation was awesome.

Christiane Amanpour challenged us to be risk takers. Our class valedictorian, in a wholly humorless and solemn manner, stressed the importance of contributing to the greater good to humanity in her valedictory speech. Quoting Cicero in his treatise On Duties, "we are not born, we do not live for ourselves alone; our country, our friends, have a share in us". And I finally get to begin the next phase of my life journey.
There are few institutions of higher education that offer more opportunities to its students than USC. There are few universities that provide students so much leeway to explore different avenues and find their passion. Perhaps as an undergraduate, I didn't get as involved on campus as I would have liked. I didn't even have as many fun and crazy "college experiences" as I would have liked. But it's okay - I have another four years at this campus to make up for that.
The week leading up to graduation feels like the prelude to breaking up with your first love. Post-graduate life feels like you just got dumped. I'm grateful that I will be staying on campus for another four years, sparing me from the emotional upheaval.
One more chance, four more years, MAKE THE MOST OF THE EXPERIENCE.

As they say, good things happen to people who work their asses off and never give up.
Study hard, play hard.
Go big or go home.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Countdown to Graduation

I never thought I would see the day when I would face an overabundance of free time and absolutely no idea what to do with it. But here I am, sprawled on my bed with nothing to do. There's nothing to study for, no television shows to catch up on, no parties to attend, and nowhere to go. It's a strange feeling. A tinge of boredom and uneasiness is already starting to creep up on me and I feel like I'm toying with a lethal combination of boredom, laziness, and gluttony.

Every dental student that I've talked to have imparted on me one golden piece of advice - "savor the last summer before dental school; get all of the wanderlust and partying out of your system". This is the LAST summer of my life that will be unbound from the chains of adult responsibilities. Yet when something is labeled so definitively as the "last", my expectations for it increase exponentially. Though I have a few travel plans here and there throughout the summer, I'm constantly scared that my summer plans will fall short of my expectations.
Meanwhile, my roommate has been toiling over her valedictory speech the entire day. So much for post-final celebrations. Though it's a great honor and a spectacular last hoorah, being valedictorian is hard work. I spent the afternoon pouring through Google, YouTube, and TedX as a source of inspiration to help her write her valedictory speech. It was a stressful affair and I wasn't even the one composing or presenting the speech. How in the world are you supposed to be original, creative, inspirational, funny, and reflective at the same time?

I wanted to be at my roommate's graduation to listen to her speech, to cheer for her, and gain a little notoriety by establishing myself as the "valedictorian's roommate". Unfortunately, the science majors in the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences are graduating at the same time as Viterbi. Even worse, we are graduating in the parking lot next to the math and engineering buildings. Lot 6, to be exact...
I still don't understand why Marshall business majors graduate in the Galen Center, the International Relations/History/Political Science majors graduate at the Shrine Auditorium, Annenberg majors graduate at McCarthy Quad, and the science majors are relegated to a parking lot on the outskirts of campus. I feel slightly jilted here...

(I'm also raising an eyebrow at the fact that they have the Ostrow dental students graduating on the McAllister Soccer Field, which is a few blocks away from campus. Not to mention that it is a soccer field.)

I'm excited for graduation tomorrow though for me, it doesn't really feel like the end. I attribute it to the fact that I'm going to be back on this campus come August. Somehow, it feels like a continuation of a really long USC saga for me, a story that will get better with each coming year.

Fight on!

Song of the Day
Love Interruption - Jack White

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Undergrad Complete!

An hour ago, I turned in my last final and sprinted out of the classroom. I am officially DONE with undergrad!

I'm excited for the transition to dental school but at the same time, I'm not ready for this journey to be over yet. I just read the tribute to the USC Senior Class of 2012 by the Bearfighter (Arrogant Nation) and I'm getting slightly emotional. This is really the end of the undergrad journey. I am graduating...
Heather winning the Archimedes Circle Award as well as the Biomedical Engineering Department Award. What a smart roommate!

In other news, my roommate was awarded the Viterbi Valedictorian prize last night. I'm so proud of her. I can't believe I'm sharing the room with a valedictorian. Too bad my graduation ceremony is taking place at the same time as the Viterbi graduation ceremony so I won't be able to listen to her speech live.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Moment of Creativity

I've recently been inspired by photography and post-processing. These fleeting spurts of inspiration generally arise when there is a heap of unpalatable work that ought to be done (i.e. finals). Instead, I spend my precious time sifting through cool photos, camera reviews, photography blogs, and occasionally, Corgi-flop videos (you. must. watch. this. video!!!).

I'm drawn to the look of photos taken by film cameras, though I don't actually know how to operate a film camera. It's something that I should learn in the near future, perhaps.

But today also marks a monumental occasion: it's the first time I shot RAW. In other words, I need to buy a bigger SD card. I take this photography business slow. Like, really slow. It took me almost a year to finally give up my trusty and portable point-and-shoot in favor of a DSLR. Then it took me nearly two years to shoot in full manual mode. Now, I've seen the light and I'm finally shooting in RAW.

Without further, I present to you my scarf... my bedroom... and my new logo.

Song of the Day
A Case of You - James Blake (cover of the original Joni Mitchell song)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

加油! 加油!

All that stands between me and graduation is three finals and a paper. But between watching three seasons of Psych within the past 9 days, productivity is at an all time low. Time to will myself out of bed and crack open a book.

HOLY CRAP! I graduate in 10 days...