Is graduation really worth celebrating?

If you’re someone who’s had the same experiences as I’ve had during Uni, then celebrations might feel a little empty and unwarranted.

Throughout most of Uni, I struggled to study and fell behind often. I procrastinated. I was usually never on time. Sometimes I would even skip class if I was running late, just to avoid all eye contact (thank you social anxiety!). Very late into my degree, I also decided that I would not be pursuing a career in any of the fields that I had studied, potentially throwing away 6 years of Uni for nothing.

Pride was not something that I initially associated with Uni and naturally, being forced to celebrate something that you’re not proud of sparks some internal reflection.

My graduation today forced me to reflect on those Uni experiences again. While I navigated on autopilot, looking for a reason to celebrate, my parents were buzzing. They were up, ready and itching to get this day started. It was 12pm. My ceremony was not for another 5 hours. What was their rush?

If you know my family, you’ll know that we’re always late. Always. “Fashionably late” was more than just a norm — it was a lifestyle. I have only ever felt “urgency” from my parents whenever we had to catch a flight, as it involved leaving for the airport 4 hours prior to our scheduled flight.

Urgency was not in their vocabulary, but today was different.

On our way to the ceremony, my mood slowly shifted from autopilot into anxiety — maybe from the internal conflict … or maybe from my parents’ buzz.

This carried on throughout the check-in process. At every step from the registration desk through to the gown fitting area, I was met with “congratulations!” from each of the ceremony workers. On one hand, my ego and self-esteem were feeding off the praise of the workers (complete strangers who now know that I have a law degree!). But on the other hand, pride invited more internal strife and more confusion on what I was to be proud of.

An accurate depiction of my internal mental process leading up to Graduation.

This would all change as soon as I walked out to my parents, fully gowned.

Now my mum gets easily excited over anything, but excitement today might even be an understatement. If we were trying to break the world record for the number of graduation photos taken within 30 minutes, my Mum would be a strong contender. She was ecstatic.

My dad’s reaction? A smile, a handshake, and a hug. It was simple, but it said everything. This was a huge fucking deal. Not just for me, but for them too. Now it all made sense.

While I had mulled over my 6-year “grind” through Uni, I realised that my parents had been grinding throughout the last 25 years of my life and more. 40 years ago, they fled from their home country into an unknown world in search of opportunity. They had no money, no family or friends outside of Vietnam and no idea where their overfilled boat would take them.

Today they’re here, seeing their boy graduate — 40 years after fleeing from Vietnam.

This was never just my achievement — it was their achievement too. They had sacrificed everything so that I could achieve anything.

Seeing my parents’ reaction and knowing where they had come from prompted me to look at my own journey again. While I’m not too fond of my academic achievements (or lack thereof), I would not be who I am today if not for my experiences at UTS. Uni was an arena where I was completely out of my element. But I was challenged here. I grew up here.

Although I can barely remember anything about accounting concepts or legal procedures, I’d be lying to myself if I said that I had learnt nothing here.

Here, I learnt how to manage my time, and how to juggle between studying, working and managing a social life all at the same time.

Here, I experimented with different ideas and different conversations. Where else would I find myself debating the ramifications of changing Sharia law in an Arab nation with an Italian exchange student?

Here, I broke down mentally and emotionally, but I learnt more and more about my own mental health. I learnt how to manage my own anxieties and how to catch myself “spiraling”.

And here, although I studied and pursued fields that I would learn later to have no interest in, my time does not feel wasted. I’m not suited to be either a lawyer or an accountant, and that’s okay. Trying something and not liking it has taught me more than not trying it at all.

If I can’t be proud of my own academic “success”, then at the very least I can be proud of the process that got me to where I am today. My parents’ journey, together with my own here at UTS deserves the recognition. I’m stronger mentally, emotionally and spiritually, all thanks to my time at Uni.

Thank you UTS. You were a haven that challenged me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. You’ve provided a small immigrant family from Da Nang with the thrill of seeing their boy graduate. And, you’ve allowed for me to grow into the person that I am today — I’m grateful, and I’m proud to graduate here.

Celebrations are now in session.