This is What It’s Like to Graduate from Harvard

Written with love in Cambridge, MA.

It’s 4:19 AM on Thursday, May 24th, 2018, and for the first time in longer than I can remember, I’ve finished everything on my immediate to-do list. Every application, every checklist. Everything I consider important.

Except, of course, for one last thing.

Later today, I will be graduating from Harvard. Champagne will be popped at a mandatory breakfast starting at 6:00 AM, probably the earliest I’ve had to wake up (all-nighters notwithstanding) since those godforsaken academic bowl meets in high school. Decades of academic toil, all leading up to this very moment. Cap and gown and tassel, all laid out.

If you were to ask me what my experience was like these past four years, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. How does one capture the beauty and pain of a thousand and a half days, the lingering affection and damnation and esprit de corps towards one’s soon-to-be alma mater?

I’ve laughed until I almost lost consciousness, I’ve cried helplessly into the night. I’ve stayed in libraries until countless sunrises, danced in nightclubs until they’ve turned on the lights. I’ve been broken and remade a couple of cheeky times, sometimes stronger for it, but always more complex. Above all I’ve lived far beyond my three summers and eight semesters. While I still have quite a long way to go, I am slowly getting closer to the person I want to be.

More importantly, though, I am not graduating alone. Certainly I’ve had a lot of privileges these past few years — countless doors have opened for me, I am sure, because of the elite name on my degree. But to feel so loved in this very moment…it’s a feeling like none other. It makes everything else pale in comparison, like my world is being thrown into soft focus, blurring euphorically at the edges.

Two of my best friends for life are here to celebrate this very occasion. To say that I feel merely blessed by their presence would be doing them an incredible disservice. I still remember the last time all three of us were together, in the glittering smog of Shanghai pollution, that magical summer of 2012. If friends are not the meaning of life, I am honestly not sure what is.

My family is also here this week, to witness their eldest graduate from Hāfó dàxué. The real accomplishment here is not getting handed a $270,000 piece of cardstock, but slogging through four years of slow and torturous paper writing, thousands of pages of dense philosophical readings, and more red-inked problem sets than I care to remember. The academic experience here has felt interminable at times, a trial by fire which I have finally survived.

And by I, of course, I mean we. I am immensely proud of the Class of 2018 for collectively making it to the verdant green lawns filled with thousands of white folding chairs — the capstone of so many years spent in 02138 baring the content of our souls to one another, in dining halls, in sections, in common rooms strung up with LED lights, and on those extra long, extra squeaky twin beds that I know I’ll come to miss.

Because no one will understand our class quite like our class. It takes a true kindred spirit to appreciate the granularities of our angst, to relate to our particular H’18 brand of heaven and hell. And I know that in a couple of hours, when we don our undergraduate regalia for the last time, we will look back on these memories, the heights and depths, the glory and humility, all of it, every bittersweet second, and hold our breaths.

We will try to immortalize this moment for a day in the not-so-far future. A day when we will think back to what it felt like — being surrounded by pastel-garbed loved ones, smiling for the cameras, pretending to be more sure of ourselves than we were — and enjoying, perhaps for the last time, the ever-sweet rarity of a sunny afternoon in Cambridge.

So cheers, baby. We’re finally here.