A week from today I'll be walking across a stage at the University of California, Irvine. Not as an actress, not as an MC, not as a singer, not as a dancer, and not as a performer. I'll be walking across stage as a college graduate waiting to get my degree and graduating with Latin honors.
Note: this post is picture heavy because I couldn't choose and they're all just so cute!
All my life the stage felt like home. It was a place where I could express my feelings, play a role other than myself, and be confident. But this stage is different. This stage marks a milestone in my life. It is an achievement that pushes me further into adulthood.
4 years ago I graduated high school. I was filled with nerves and excitement. I was hopeful for this new chapter in life. Today, I have those same feelings, perhaps even more nervousness as this is an even greater change ... a change pointing towards the unknown.
I still remember the feeling of walking on campus for the first time. I couldn't imagine getting from class to class with this vast park in the middle of school. The school just felt so big and had people from all over. It was an entirely new world.
Yet today, my university feels quite small. I became accustomed to the school. Things fell into a routine. I found my nooks and crannies. I found my study spots and favorite lunch places. I found another me that evolved from this school.
Although, I never had the typical college experience. I decided not to dorm. I didn't join clubs (just kidding, I did but was not an active member). I didn't go to any college parties. I didn't do all the cliche things you hear about that happens in college.
Instead, I did me. I commuted to school, took my classes, studied hard, continuously made it on the Dean's Honors List, studied some more. All the while I was also driving back and forth from home, school, and Los Angeles. I simultaneously focused on my studies and my career in the entertainment industry.
I don't regret not having a typical college experience, but there were times where I felt out of place ... like I didn't belong. I felt like I didn't have the school pride or spirit I imagined I would have simply because I commuted and wasn't on campus as often as I should've been. Yet the four years at UCI has turned me into a proud "Anteater."
The beginning of my senior year, I wanted a change. I moved to Taiwan for 5 months for a study abroad program at the National Taiwan University in Taipei. To be honest, that was the best time of my life thus far. I got to experience a new life at this university that I dreamt of having. I stayed in the dorms and had a roommate from Germany. I took classes twice a week and had a 5 day weekend. I made friends from all around the world. I immersed myself in a new culture and practiced a language I spent years studying back home in California. I went to clubs and partied. I got drunk and danced till my feet felt numb. I discovered more about myself. And I fell in love.
Coming back to Irvine was, in a way, more of a culture shock than moving to Taiwan - or would you say it was more of a reality check? It made my time in Taiwan seem like a dream.
Time went forward. And now when I look back on my college experience, the memories seem to blend together. I don't remember taking certain classes. I lost contact with some friends. I, honestly, don't remember what I even did my sophomore year. But that doesn't change the fact that these past 4 years were a wonderful learning and life experience.
I always felt like going to college was the normal, typical thing to do after high school. As graduation approaches, I now realize this is one of the greatest achievements a person could have. It is a milestone in my life that marks the beginning of something new. Not everyone gets to say they graduated college.
I'm proud of what I've achieved. This was a learning experience that I will look back on with a genuine smile. I'm glad that I never gave up and that I continued to push through.
This was something I thought I was doing for my parents, but really it was something I was doing for myself.
Life after college is what scares me a little. There's so much left to the unknown. By this time next year, who knows where I'll be? Working in California, traveling the world, following my dreams? I guess the only thing now is to expect the unexpected.
Alas, onto the next stage with the spotlight shining right on me.
Photographed by Steve Park