Commencement

Andrew Loh

May 11, 2020

Share

From my archive memories of On This Day, I scrolled through photos of me in graduation garb, surrounded by my loved ones — both my friends and my family. I did this as I waited for my sisters to get into the car, with my mom to my right; again, surrounded by my loved ones. We were on our way out to the park for a Mother's Day picnic. I found it funny that the day to celebrate my mom this year fell on the same day I celebrated my Commencement last year. Probably to no one's surprise, I decided to assign some significance to this coincidence.
One year ago, I sat through my college commencement, hearing tons of life advice that I was effectively primed and attuned to receive, though I was very well intoxicated through all of it.
"Life is a journey filled with learning," "it's time to apply the knowledge and skills you've acquired from your years of schooling, to give back," "the relationships you've made will follow you," "Commencement is all about new beginnings, and this marks the beginning of the rest of your life."
A good amount of that day is a blur in my memory, but one experience still sticks with me today — a mixed sense of guilt, pride, obligation, emptiness, and joy as I stood on the Bridge Hall lawn outside of the Marshall Breezeway for our post-ceremony reception. With cardinal-and-gold everything, everywhere, I was just trying to take it all in.
Gripping three or four bouquets of flowers, my diploma, and my boxed lunch (I was starving and a hangover was settling in), I careered through the crowd looking for my family, who I hadn't seen since the night before — after picking them up from the airport and taking them to their quarters for the night, I sped back to my final night at Menlo as an undergraduate student for a last hoorah, until the following morning at 6 AM, that is. I was officially done, and I was actually a little peeved at my family for not making it to Menlo in time for the mimosas and rowdiness of a USC graduation. Nonetheless, I was excited and grateful that they'd come.
As I moved around attempting to greet my family members and exchange congratulations with classmates who I knew I wouldn't see for a while, I was also being called to partake in photos. I felt torn in this moment, a tension between spending time with my family that traveled all this way to barely see me and consciously choosing to turn away to be with people I had spent the past four years with. In hindsight, it sounds pretty logical to spend that time with my classmates and friends I wouldn't see for a while, but at that moment it didn't sit quite well with me. Apologies to my family were met with the same logic, but I still couldn't shake the feeling.
Now in my childhood bedroom, I reflect on the significance of Commencement and the significance of Mother's Day, and where the two intersect. My mom was obviously there for my birth, but between then and the 23+ years of life, she's been there imparting knowledge, love, and care in a multitude of unconventional ways. Whether implicit or explicit in her actions and words, her unrelenting will to let me fly, just not too high rings true every day. Since I've been at home for the past 9 weeks, I am reminded of how she prepares every meal, calling me down to join her around the stove as she stir-fries noodles — "I want you to learn." She ensures that I'm equipped with a mask and hand sanitizer any time I leave the house — "Oh, you don't know, the virus..." Mom, I am very aware. She insists that I join her to grab groceries from Hong Kong Market — "Why don't we all just go together?" I've started to frequent making trips downstairs for the hell of it. What're you up to? Want to go for a walk later? Have you played today? (Animal Crossing).
A year ago, I chose not to spend much time with my family at the reception, and I wonder if my mom even thought anything of it. Probably not. While I've been getting caught up recently in the type of love my mom's instilled in me, I wonder how much of it is my own imposition. For a fact, I know that my mom has taught me those same lessons I attentively internalized on May 10, 2019, just not as explicit, and I probably wasn't listening that closely to what she was saying anyway. While I'm still trying to decipher what exactly she's trying to teach me on a daily basis, I know that there's still a lot of learning to do.
During Mother's Day dinner tonight, which consisted of a shrimp and scallop fettuccine, caesar salad, baked asparagus, and mango puree ice cream, we sat at the formal dining table. As we 'cheers'd my mom, I clinked my pink blender bottle against four wine glasses. "Andrew, you're not drinking?" my mom inquired. My eldest sister responded in Chinese, "Andrew doesn't drink with his family, only his friends."