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Bachelor of Science

June 13, 2020

 

Big day. I’m all wrung out, full of happy. Heart is soaring.

 

Coupla plucky guys right here.. one just graduated from college today with a BS in Physics. The other one, the little guy, was a kid who was always (relentlessly) asking how high do you think that is?, how deep do you think that is?, how fast?, how long?, how many? …. and pretty soon didn’t have to ask because he was doing the calculations himself, and then was writing the programs that could do those calculations, and then mentoring high school students to help them answer those questions.. and then…  he became the guy on the right.. the one who graduated today. It really does not seem like that long ago he was that little kiddo.

But there they are, young version, older version, arms crossed… same guy then as now.

~ ~  ~

I was thinking earlier this evening — as I was making a NYT recipe for hamburger helper (yes, indeed) which had a lot of liquid reduction phases, giving me lots of time to stir and reflect on this milestone day — that, for so many, college is a means to an end. It was for me. It makes sense: college degrees make future gainful employment more certain, plus you can have a lot of fun and some pretty seminal life experiences on your way to that valuable, employment-enhancing degree.  And for others, college classes are the point. They’re there to learn stuff, to answer questions, to figure out how to figure things out. A degree is a great insurance policy and college life is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things… for sure.. but, for some, and I think Peter is one of them, it’s beyond that; it’s about the knowledge. I’m not saying he’s unique in this regard, just saying that he’s in that camp… people that have a real thirst for knowing things. He’s curious — always has been — and ponders things deeply. His knowledge is well catalogued in his head and he knows how to draw upon it, build upon it, leverage it. He’s good at contextualizing what he learns and applying it to the next thing. He’s just made for this. Grad school and the deepening of his knowledge base is exactly what he should do. For him.

He was within a class, or maybe two, of a computer science minor, and also as close to a math minor.. but then got interested in fluids and chose to forgo the CS and math classes in favor of graduate level fluids courses. Because that interested him. Never about the degree, always about the learning.

And that will be his focus in grad school (unless he finds something else that he likes even better).

That’s what I was thinking as I was making that hamburger helper. Peter is, and will be for the next five years, in his element.

~ ~ ~

Anyway.. the experience of him graduating from UCSD today wasn’t what I imagined in the years and years leading up to this moment. But it’s June 2020 and life is not what any of us expected, on any front. So today was what it was, which was weird.

Here are Jim and me… crammed into Jim’s office at 9:00am on a Saturday to watch the live stream of the UC San Diego 2020 Commencement.

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Problem was… UCSD’s servers were overwhelmed and many people (hundreds? thousands?) couldn’t get in. Including us for the first 10-15 minutes (of a 40-minute ceremony), including the Youngs, including Peter’s roommate Ray (Peter, we understand, was still asleep!). I believe we all, eventually, got in, but not before I sent a somewhat frantic, definitely frustrated email to (who I thought was) the chancellor’s assistant (whose email address I had handy because I’d sent a general query a couple of months ago about UCD’s graduation plans and got a response from her, much to my surprise, and, zounds, she’d copied Chancellor Pradeep Khosla on her response, again, to my huge surprise).  So anyway, I grabbed that header and whisked off a quick, distracted, clumsy email about the jammed up live stream:

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Later this afternoon, Chancellor Khosla himself responded to me:

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Goodness, goodness, goodness. That knocked my socks off. The chancellor wrote me back? Jut a couple of hours after graduation? Made me feel especially warm and full of gratitude for UCSD, its leaders, Peter’s education.. all of it. A little kindness went a long way.

Anyway, getting ahead of myself. Back to the graduation. Jim and I finally got in and watched the remainder of that 40-minute commencement event. Each of the seven colleges had their own ceremony and this one was specific to Revelle, but it had common elements with the others, like Chancellor Khosla’s comments….

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…and a pretty wonderful commencement keynote address by CBS news correspondent Bill Whittiker (whom I did not know, but who, evidently, is famous).

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Cried through most of his remarks. He handled the odd circumstance of this weird graduation very well. I’m hunting down a transcript, so I can read it again.

After a couple student speakers, Chancellor Khosla closed the ceremony and then the names of graduates scrolled. That was the highlight — seeing that Peter, in fact, had earned a BS in Physics!

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No walk across the stage, no cheering throngs of parents, families and friends, no shifting tassels or caps launched high into the air… but it was still a moment in time that signified a lot of work; four years living on his own, managing his life, his coursework; and activities and events we’ll never know about. It was huge and the love and tears and pride and relief were bursting forth, even as we were in Davis and he was (asleep, missing the whole thing) in La Jolla. He’ll catch the rerun.

About an hour later, we got to talk to him.. and it was great beyond measure! He sounded happy and relieved and released, and proud. We talked for about an hour, most of that time via Facetime while he walked his neighborhood on a sparkling late spring day.

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Look at that relaxed smile of relief and liberation!

Lots to plan over the next couple of months: completing that damn humanities class that he’s taking at a community college (I think); packing up his La Jolla apartment; saying goodbye to friends and his 4-year life; trying to arrange a backpacking trip or two with friends; celebrating his birthday; visiting us in Davis; going to Yosemite; packing for the move to Ann Arbor; finding a place to live in A2; attending an online conference with his new graduate professor ….   basking and chilling.

But he’s a very happy guy.

And I’m feeling happy and exhausted.. the release of a lot of built up angst and anticipation I didn’t even know I had. He’s almost 22, he’s graduated from college, he’s worked really hard and done well, he’s a wonderful human being, his future is bright.

I just can’t even tell you what that feels like to a parent. Jim’s less gushy, but feels it, too.

 

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