Graduation marks the end of a new beginning. A beginning acquired when we began our journey into higher education. A journey filled with books, concepts, and theories we’d never heard of. And sometimes had to spend sleepless nights in the library trying to understand. But ask me now about Jane Austen, Shakespeare, cultural anthropology, social exchange theory, even Chinese trade policies and I am confident in my ability to teach you a thing or two.
As a new graduate I look toward the future with hope. But if you think about it, the future quickly becomes the past. And then we get here, to the point where the past and the future collide and become the present. As I stand here, I can’t help but think of the events and people in my past that led me to this point, which once seemed like a very distant future.
A year ago today I was planning my trip to Italy. My friend Chelsea and I went around different places collecting recycling items to make some extra money. While in Italy we had to be very mindful of our budget. There were times when I wanted to buy something frivolous or eat at the fancy restaurant and on these occasions Chelsea would pose a simple question, “Did you wake up rich?” Just like that, I would be brought back from my cloud and realize that no, unfortunately like every other day in my life I did not wake up rich. I would then proceeded to have a one sided argument with God as to why I didn’t wake up rich.
Yet, one day that summer I woke up and I realized I had been lying to Chelsea and myself—I wake up rich everyday! After all, I was in Italy, learning Italian, meeting locals, and visiting places I’d only ever seen via Internet or movies. To top it off in a few weeks I would travel around Europe to visit friends I had met while studying abroad in Argentina. It was that summer when discovered I may not wake up money rich, but I do wake up experience rich everyday.
I grew up money poor, shopping at second hand stores before “vintage” became a thing. It meant growing up not always getting everything I wanted, not wearing what the other kids were wearing, growing up with a desire for something better. But while growing up poor I can say I never went hungry, I grew up knowing the value of a dollar and with a sense of unique strength. I also grew up with the idea that education is invaluable because unlike material things it will never go away and no one can take it from you.
And while money has caused me headaches, heartaches, and sleepless nights, thanks to friends, family, mentors, professors and supporters it has never stopped me from achieving my dreams. My professors, my peers, and the opportunities presented to me during my college experience helped me accumulate a palette filled with diverse experiences.
In 2010 my wanderlust was ignited after COP awarded me a Pacific Fund grant so I could travel to Guatemala where I would work towards perfecting my Spanish writing and learn about Mayan culture. I’ll always be grateful to Dr. Golsan, the trip advisor who guided me through the whole process and contributed greatly to my success in the program. In the spring of 2011, I studied abroad in Argentina and in the summer of 2012, I participated in COP’s Italy Immersion program. I’ll also never forget the day I woke up in Italy and realized I was rich.
Along with my travel opportunities I also think about professors like Dr. Zhou who taught me about Ethnic Studies, Multi-Ethnic American Literature and who never doubted me even when I doubted myself. Or my PACS II professor Dr. Garcia-Sheets, who helped me find my voice and the courage to speak up and contribute in class. I think also of Dr. Bates who taught me about rhetorical thinking and criticism, and ruined entertainment for me because everything has a message sometimes obvious sometimes hidden. And also Dr. Ramos and Dr. Lehmann who always made time to talk to me whether it was about academics or troubles of the heart.
And as I reminisce about my years at Pacific I think not only of the English classes, the Communication classes, the Spanish classes; the novels I read, the papers I wrote, the discussions I led but I also think of my professors. They not only taught me about literature, writing, or communication techniques but they also challenged my ideas and supported my decisions. And above all they helped me have a better understanding of not just the world but also myself.
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kofi Annan said “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.” College of the Pacific gave me an outstanding education, a palette filled with diverse experiences, experiences that with support and encouragement, I chose for myself. I am thankful for that, because I as I enter the “real world” I know I am ready to live and make a difference.