I sat under the blaring sun and unrelenting heat of California during summer along with thousands of parents watching the passing spectacle of graduation on June 13.
In the bleachers overlooking the Claremont High School graduation, I was submerged into a crowd of pure excitement as cheers, nudging, jumping, deafening blasts of air horns, and excited screams enveloped every sense. It felt surreal as the closest thing that could possibly be physically felt to the pure emotion of joy.
As every one of my senses was swamped with something, the scents of thousands of people, ears rendered incapable of distinguishing a single noise, eyes entertained with fantastic smiles from students and parents, jostled by the people around me, I wasn’t there. My mind drifted far away from the jubilation of the crowd and the only thing I could seem to think about was how it was so goddamn hot.
As I let my mind wander, I drifted in and out of focus realizing that these seniors moving onto another part of their lives, some purposed to follow higher education, some excited to begin their adult lives, some getting their first jobs, and some continuing to chase their dreams, I questioned myself. Being that I was there to see my sister graduate and celebrate that she is continuing to UCLA for higher education in engineering, I felt passionless compared to her.
Turning toward introspection, I thought about all the greatest achievements, in school and outside, and how they are irrelevant even in the small perspective of my life and much less in other people’s. In the midst of this graduation, my mind wandered on to think about how we set expectations and goals for ourselves. Concluding that being an optimist is simply making a fool of yourself, I rationalized that you cannot live up to even self-set expectations when the saying goes: the sky is the limit.
I began to think about references in my life and especially how our school systems have us read the greatest American novels, specifically “The Great Gatsby.” Jay Gatsby is a man who reinvents his identity and goes every step possible to reach his goals, forsaking his name and abandoning the past to only ultimately fail. His aspirations, journey, and purpose in life ultimately boil down to his love where he finds out that he is simply not capable enough.
As one of my greatest fears to have nothing to show at the end of life, to me, it is questionable as to why such a book should be labeled an American classic. At that point in time, to me, the novel described a world in where dreams are not accomplishable, our reality where people are born less capable than others, and that you might work your whole life and ultimately nothing will come of it.
Neither did I get up and suddenly have an epiphany, nor was I determined to work much harder to accomplish my goals, but I thought back to every time I had failed to accomplish what I set out to. In the third grade, I thought I was athletic enough to jump off the playground instead of just climbing down the fire pole or the steps.
As a kid, even in the moments where risk clearly and highly outweighed the reward, I took the jump.
I don’t remember the snap and subsequent searing pain when my right wrist shattered into exactly three pieces. My memory itself has faded over the years, but I remember falling through the air with a grin on my face. Feeling like an acrobat in Cirque du Soleil, I fell through the air as giddily as someone can fall.
Staring into the face of impending doom due to my downwards projectile and the increasing speed at which Newton’s gravitational acceleration yanked me down, nonetheless, I remained in a state of jovial nonchalance and excitement that only comes with a childish mindset.
Upon initial contact with the ground, my wrist touched the grainy rubber surface and instantly collapsed. Landing face forward onto the ground, I lied there filled with a surge of adrenaline. My attention had shifted from my tumble to the searing heat of the black rubber ground burning the side of my face and arm.
Noticing how the wind knocked air out of my lungs, I gasped for air. I noticed how my arm throbbed and how I felt my quickening heart pulse through my that. Looking down, horror and exasperation dawned on me as I only noticed that my wrist was unnaturally bent and twisted.
At that moment, it was all too much, and emotion overpowered my physical pain, barely noticing the distorted position of my wrist. After the emotion and adrenaline, the physical pain comes in waves as the adrenaline wears off like failed anesthesia. My face was strained the conflicting emotions of the moment became intermixed with the physical pain pushing me towards despair.
Lying in the fetal position and clutching my arm, I had no will to get up. I felt the unrelenting heat around me, and as the sun hit me in the face again I could do nothing about it, rendered incapable of the simplest of actions.
I laid there for only moments but to me, it seemed like an eternity, and as the sun continued to linger as if stuck to my skin, I felt an overwhelmingly strong sense of embarrassment burning even worse than the sun had. Vision blurring from tears, I saw my mother run toward me.
Maybe my childish brain at 8 years old took this jump to be a monumental step in proving his athletic prowess and the ultimate 3rd grade flex, but at the moment, I realized that maybe this kid had something I lost. The eagerness and readiness that only comes with childhood naivety toward the carelessness for consequences is, maybe, something that shouldn’t be considered so childish.
The truth is that I along with most other people don’t take enough risks in the face of minor inconvenience. I had come to a resolution, the unattainability of my own self-set expectations is nothing short of a good thing. The nature of dreams is that they are possible, even if only slightly, and it can only push us to work harder.
There I sat, in the bleachers of Claremont High School, under the same sun, in the same sea of noise — only half an hour had passed. The seniors continued proceeding in a line one by one receiving their diplomas. I looked back up at the sun and the weather hadn’t changed either, it was still hot.