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PIECE OF CAKE, PEACE OF MIND

Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time

When I graduated high school, my neck was adorned with at least six or seven cords of various colors, indicating that I had been a part of at least six or seven (very “exclusive”) organizations or societies.  They were, as I’ve come to realize in my old age, a very prideful display of my accomplishments and intelligence (or so I thought).  High school graduation didn’t feel like a big achievement.  Where I grew up, graduating high school was the norm (with a 100% graduation rate at my high school of 2400 students), so graduation was just another chance to show off.

That’s what a lot of high school felt like—opportunity after opportunity to show off or prove your worth to everyone else.  Someone was always beating you in one class or another, and if not, all the more reason to flaunt your academic success to everyone else.

Now, though, on the eve of my graduation from UC Berkeley, I’ve come to realize the greatest change I’ve undergone (and I think most of my peers have undergone) in the past four years is developing a mentality of gratitude.

It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for what I had in high school; I just don’t think I was aware of how lucky I was at the time.  I’ve been having a recurring conversation with fellow graduates this week about how we’ve realized how incredibly lucky all of us are.  I would venture to say that the vast majority of my friends currently have no student loans or debt to deal with.  I know that some do, and that that is actually the norm, and seeing how hard these people work only makes our good fortune that much  more apparent.  We couldn’t have asked for more than to be born into families who value education enough to sacrifice a huge amount of the money they’ve worked for their whole lives to allow us to attend one of the world’s best universities.  It’s truly something amazing.

Unlike at high school graduation, the norm in college is to wear a stole underneath all those cords (if, unlike me, you’ve earned them).  The stole is not a chance to showboat your achievements because this time around everyone has matured enough to realize that they’ve all been through a horrible and incredible four years together, regardless of what cords they may or may not also have around their necks.  No, the stole of gratitude is, well, a symbol of gratitude, and is meant to be given to someone after the ceremony that you are truly thankful for.  Upon further research into this ceremonial accessory, I found that it’s not uncommon for people to wear more than one stole so they can express their gratitude to more than one person.  For me, the tradition simply wouldn’t work because there are far too many people I’m grateful for at this juncture in my life.

My parents, my family, my professors, my friends, my competitors, my teammates, my lab partners, my coworkers, my advisors, my mentors, my students, and my bosses: all have contributed in some way to my ultimate success in graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

But it should be noted that success here, too, is measured differently than in high school.  As I mentioned, I’m unfortunately going to be cord-less this time around.  To go from one of the kids with the most cords in high school to one of the kids with the fewest in college is incredibly humbling, but does not make me sad in any way.  While I may not have earned the right to join this honors society or that organization, I’m fully aware of my accomplishments in the past four years, the most salient being the simple act of finishing a dual degree at one of the top engineering schools in the world.  I started out and completed my goal.  I often struggled and failed in between.  But I finished.  And that—that is enough to be incredibly grateful for.

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