Every quarter always ends in the same manner. We frantically rush to turn in that paper, cram one more equation into our heads, look over that practice final one more before it all ends. Just like that. Even after 14 quarters of UCLA, finals week has always been the same chaotic mess. Except this one was a bit different. We graduated.
There hasn’t been alot of time to process everything that’s been going on. The bittersweetness of graduation, the horrific tragedy of Orlando, the absolute ridiculousness of the ever so famous Stanford’s rapist’s sentence, the heart-thumping moments of waiting for UCLA to be the next school shooting. Now that finals are over and my AMCAS is submitted (thank the Lord), I can finally think clearly.
If there’s one thing that UCLA has taught me, it’s that you can always grow and make a home out of wherever you are through the people you meet. The day UC Berkeley rejected me 4 years ago easily turned into one of the worst days of my life at that time. While I had naive dreams of going to an Ivy, I always knew I could and would find a place at Berkeley. I had never thought otherwise. Thus when Bruin Day, SIR, orientation, and move-in rolled around, I just went through the motions with a reservoir of bitterness and hurt still thinking Berkeley was where I was meant to be. Today, in this moment, I am bursting with pride as a Bruin. While grateful for all the moments of pure bliss, I learned to find light in the most stressful of nights, most impossible of challenges, and the darkest of happenings. It’s only when I look back on my 4 years I realize that the bonds we build with good people are what gives us the resilience to always bounce back, whether from a failed exam in the classroom, a shooting on our campus, or a tragedy that shakes the world. It’s our connection and empathy with others, no matter how indirect, that angers us when a rapist isn’t appropriately punished. While we may have never been victims of sexual assault, we have all walked our own paths of injustice and damage that connects us together. While we may have never had a politician push to ban our groups of people from this country, we have experienced our own forms of prejudice that connects us together. While we may have not lost our own brother or sister in a hate crime, we have dealt with the darkness of loss and sorrow in our own ways that connects us together. This connection is so powerful. It can start movements, fight for change, foster healing, expand families beyond our own, and give families to those who are alone. For this reason, while I cherish my highest moments of laughter and joy, I say thank you to my lowest points for teaching me that there’s always light when people come together.
A lot happened just in the last few weeks of school. There’s been so much hurt and loss, which makes me think of my years under the light of these events, people who I’ve lost. None of them were incredibly close with me to the point that my life halted, but for the first time, people I had shared memories with, or people I was linked to, were no longer on this earth. Just knowing this still makes me pause for a second, think about them, and say my thanks to whatever God or angel exists. When my best friend Natalie texted me saying one of our pagemates had suddenly died, I remember exactly where I was and stopped in my track. While this girl and I weren’t best friends, we had lived under the same roof, gone to the same school, and were part of an incredibly special family that very few people will ever know. Therefore, I couldn’t concentrate and would tear up thinking about her during the next few days. She would never graduate from college. Then a few months later, another one of our pagemates passed away in a car accident. I had no words; the world was so unfair. The UCSB shooting. Two girls connected to my then sorority had died. My grandfather peacefully passed earlier this year, who I regretfully had never met. Still, my name and my brother’s were included in his funeral as we were his eldest son’s (my dad) children. I thought about how I’ve never asked my dad about his family and how he never gets to see them. The UCLA shooting during my last week of college during which I was expecting our campus to be the next statistic, the relief that we were all OK, the disbelief that someone died in the building I take shortcuts through daily, the “back to normal” after being completely rattled, fearing for my friend’s lives for hours, the candlelight vigil where I’ve never seen so many people in Bruin Plaza at once – these events have defined my last day as an undergraduate. I remember raising my candle with thousands of others in silence, and felt a sob come up mourning for the lives lost, grateful more than ever for those alive, and so incredibly touched by the solidarity of the Bruin community. I cried.
My graduation weekend, a YouTuber I had been following since I was in high school was killed. She was younger than me. The morning of my departmental ceremony, I woke up to news of one of the largest American mass shootings in history.
I’ve felt emotions I’ve never felt before. In high school, we talked about SAT scores, not injustices of this world. Basically everyone did a sport; mental illness and wellness was a foreign subject. I learned to be a tough lone wolf, not to rely on a safety net of relationships with others. UCLA, you’ve challenged me from directions I wasn’t prepared to tackle. I saw academic inequity every Friday right outside of the Westwood bubble. Nasty racial slurs crept up multiple times on our campus. I questioned how on earth in 2016 we could still discriminate by skin color, gender identity, and sexuality. Stigma and micro aggressions targeting mental health needed to go. And with every event like Orlando, UCSB, or freak accidents, I wonder why them, why anyone, and when will it ever stop. Then, you gave the tools to heal and grow – the strength of relationships with the most loving and empathetic of apartment mates, coffee shop buddies, lab mates, allnighter companions, fellow student leaders, the forever friends from high school, mentors, professors. People who will write endless funding applications to send mentors to an underfunded school. People in a movement to revitalize mental health. People who are happier than you during your own success, and won’t stop checking up on you even when they’re struggling too. You’ve taught me that we are connected maybe not by blood, but through memories and experiences. These connections, while causing us to share pain, also allow us to share joy and build a safety net of resilience to push us through the most stressful, most vulnerable, and darkest of times. It is the drive behind the UC motto: Fiat lux, let there be light through hopeless times of med school apps, through devastating tragedies. You’ve taught me that behind all the academic success, getting jobs, reaching goals, having passions, it is the people that makes it worthwhile. I am forever grateful for this lesson.
UCLA, thank you for giving me these people; thanks for being my home.