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.
YOLO.

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