Bittersweet Graduation

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There are many things an old man regrets when he is on his deathbed, wishing he had done more of the interesting things in life when he had the chance. We have bucket lists, to-do lists, travel plans, etc., because deep down, we hate being stuck in one place doing the same thing. That is insanity.

Now I find myself in the same position as many elderly people, though in a different setting, glancing upon my graduation. Five weeks from now I will be a professed graduate of this fine university, and I am damn proud. But deep down, like any person who is nearing an end in a chapter of his life, there is much introspection. What could I have done better? Where did I go astray? What did I miss out on?

As proud as I am of graduating, many regrets still linger. As much as I would love to start this all over, retrace my steps to try different paths, I know that is something I cannot realize. There is a tendency to let things be, and I try to live by that. It doesn’t hurt, though, to entertain the “what-ifs.”

People tend to ask what they did in college because college is supposed to be the most exciting time in a person’s life. Swirling that idea around in my head brought me to the stark realization that I would not have a legitimate answer. I wouldn’t have that “face lights up” moment as I relive memories past, of new friends and adventures alike. My best response would be I graduated in 3 years. Whoop-Dee-Doo. It is that “senior year, no regrets” mentality that I lack, and it haunts me.

My biggest regret, and this might ruffle some feathers, was parental obedience. In Vietnamese culture, elders are highly respected. Having the maturity of an adolescent, I was always envious of my older brother who did much in his first year. He did ASUCI, participated in clubs, played in intramurals, and altogether enjoyed his time as an undergrad. My first year was spent finding carpools to and from school, trying to hold on to every penny so I wouldn’t fall too deep into loan debt. This required me to work on others’ schedules, and it was excruciating. Parents were always demanding my presence at home, asking why I was constantly gone when I was at school trying to find a ride home. Scheduling always became a conflict. At one point, I rode the bus to school. I am not trying to make this into a tearjerker though. If I reversed time and did anything differently, my relationship with the pops might not be so good, but it would have been well worth it.

People also tend to measure their college experiences through the amount of true friendships they can cultivate. They say the friends you make in college are going to be there for the rest of your life. Sad to say, I did not cultivate any friendships. Instead, I stayed in contact with my old friends, not being brave or human enough to have a conversation with someone new. My contact book is definitely larger, but do I really know these people? I am acquainted with them, yes, but friends? I sincerely doubt it. Not once did I take time off to simply ask someone to come eat, go for a walk, or just talk. I missed all the opportunities to go join a club, meet new people, share new experiences, get hammered when I knew I should not have. Just as after high school, once I graduate college my contact book will slowly dwindle down as I erase the names of those I will never meet again. These people weren’t truly my friends; they were just people that I happened to meet but never took the time to cultivate true relationships with. It is disheartening to say the least.

There are so many other regrets that I can think of. Not studying abroad, never going to a sports game, not joining an intramural team, not using the ARC when it was free, not getting involved in research earlier, never finding free food on campus, never skipping class to do something fun, never getting involved. Sure I could have gotten by without doing these things, but what’s the point? My college experience has been left a dilapidated mess simply because I did not have the balls to go do anything.

I look at the incoming freshmen who peruse the campus. A part of me yearns for their youthfulness and ability to start their college careers fresh while a part of me wants to scream to every single one to not live my college experience but instead do everything they might have thought of doing because there would truly be no regrets. I am graduating in 5 weeks, bittersweet, melancholy and disappointed that it has to end. Like I recite in Mass weekly, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

 

David Vu is a third-year public health policy major. He can be reached at davidnv@uci.edu.

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