Saturday, June 13, 2009

One year out

I went to the UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement last night. Yeah, it's that time of year again. This means that it's already been a full year since I graduated (from the school of Engineering, not the aforementioned one). The ceremony was pretty darn good, despite having to sit in the nosebleed "yellow seats" and not being able to see anything.

It did feel a little awkward though, to hear the first two speeches, one by an apparently fantastic community icon who received the UCLA Medal last night, and the other by the UCLA Student Body President. Both were women, and both very well spoken and energetic, but I got the strange sensation that I was at a political rally rather than a graduation ceremony. Now, I have nothing wrong with motivating "young people" (ugh, I hate that term but it's the most appropriate one here) to become active in shaping their community and nation, but I would expect such a widely-attended event to be a little more neutral. That's all I'll say about that.

The keynote speaker, Brad Delson of Linkin Park fame, was very, very, very good, and that's 3 "very"s more than I had expected. He was well spoken like the two ladies, and, being a fellow UCLA grad, albeit class of '99, was able to throw in familiar references to early Rieber dinners (I'm not sure which dining hall is open early these days) and late night Puzzles runs for good measure. When finding out he would not be able to keep the "honorary" cap an gown, he decided to take it off to reveal a custom UCLA basketball jersey and shorts underneath, with the number "09" and the name "Keynote" on the back. Then he played an exclusive, never-before-heard (and hopefully never again heard) acoustic guitar rendition of Britney Spears' "I'm not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." I must be getting old because I didn't recognize the song until it was practically over, and all the kids knew what it was almost right when he started. All in all, Mr. Delson gets an A for the night, and was much, much more engaging than the boring guy who spoke at my boring graduation who broke his promise not to be boring in the first 3 boring minutes of his boring speech.

Anyway, being back at UCLA always gives me a weird feeling now. I've been back there several times for various reasons (mostly, but not all being basketball games), and I'm really seeing the campus in a different light. Before attending UCLA starting in 2003, I mostly identified the campus as "that place w/ the cool student store and the historic Pauley Pavilion." Yeah, UCLA merchandise and basketball. That's all it was. When I started attending, I got more familiar with the entirety of the campus. As much of my time was spent going to class or doing homework, the place just made me think of work. No matter how much fun I was having, there was still that feeling that I was there to go to class and to get a degree. Come to think of it, that might have been the wrong approach.

Lately I've been thinking back to what the college experience was like. A lot of the specific factual knowledge that I gained in classes in order to survive my exams has all but gone away from my brain. What's left is just the capacity for critical thinking and the desire to dig deeper when things don't make sense. College is about the experience, and college courses are all about learning how to learn because in the end, you won't be valued for your useless knowledge about obscure topics, but rather how you can apply what you've learned about approaching problems and situations in life. I think if I had kept this in mind, I would have studied differently - possibly more efficiently, and also less. And I would been able to allow myself to have more fun when not studying or going to class.

I'm one year out of college, and UCLA is now, along with its other purposes, a place of memories. My mind no longer associates the campus with me having a massive things-to-do list. Now the studying and classes and test taking are all in the past, and I am able to relax and have more fun when I go back. But the thing is, I just about never go back there just for fun, making this new state of mind pretty much irrelevant. "Stop and smell the roses" is cliché but so true. Too bad you can't go back in time and smell the roses of the past.

One year out, and I'm realizing I missed out on college because of the classes, and because of my mindset. Well, at least we'll always have Ackerman, and we'll always have basketball.

...after they're done with the Pauley Pavilion renovation, anyway.