Home ahead

Tonight is my final night in San Francisco. Tomorrow, I’ll board the plane heading towards Malaysia. I’m heading home for the first time as a college graduate!

It’s interesting the way I’ve come full circle.

I started off my most exciting, most eventful, and most life-changing year here in San Francisco. I ushered in 2011 here. And now, after all the events that have taken place in the past year—2.5 weeks after my graduation from college that gave me the most significant 4 years ever—I’m ending this phase of my life in San Francisco once more.

My favorite music to listen to while writing papers (and goodness knows all I ever do in college is write papers) is the Lord of the Rings film soundtrack. It is energetic and passionate, serene and calming, all those things, without having distracting lyrics.

One track in particular, the one titled The Steward of Gondor, has a short section of lyrics that held particular meaning to me, especially when I first got to Grinnell.

Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread;
Through shadow, to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.

It is so full of hope, suggesting the necessity of leaving the comforts of home far behind in order to pursue something meaningful, to achieve something of value. Being so far from home, in somewhere so foreign, so far from the city, having no one with whom I can immediately relate to, that was really tough at first. I was homesick, and it took some time to adapt to Grinnell’s odd culture, heavy workload, and the way classes were conducted that was very different from what I’d been used to.

But I was so hopeful. I’d been so determined to come here, and I was going to make sure it would amount to something very valuable in the end: “Until the stars are all alight.”

I can’t even begin to adequately express how much and in what ways the past 4 years mean to me. It’s been great. It’s been more than great. It’s been amazing. It’s taken off the wrongly prescribed glasses through which I’ve been seeing a blurred world for the past 18 years of my life. It’s given me the ability to put to words and vocalize the confusing mess of thoughts, musings, and hunches about the world that I’ve long held interiorly but hadn’t been able to articulate.

Most importantly though, it’s given me so much hope and optimism. I dunno what it is about Grinnell, but it’s made me tear down the mental roadblocks that I’ve constructed for myself, the kind that people build for themselves from years of adhering to expectations and sticking to conventions. I’ve learned not to say ‘no’ too quickly to seemingly absurd suggestions, to make plans that include a little bit more risk, a little less pragmatism, and to spend a little more time actively seeking out adventures. I’ve discovered the truth to this piece of wisdom in my trip to Ghana. Traveling alone to Western Africa, taking a lonesome 12-hour bus ride to the rural Northern Region, was not, by any traditional measure, a “sensible” thing for a girl to do. But I did it, and it was awesome, and one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. Adult sensibleness, in moderate doses, is fine, but in excess, can be so crippling to personal development, and any sort of effort to make life actually enjoyable and fun to live.

Oftentimes the most rewarding experience is not necessarily the safest, the easiest, or the most practical. It may not seem sensible at the beginning, but there’s something about the unknown that—while a little scary and uncomfortable—is at the same time so incredibly exciting, and that in itself is a great reward that makes the trouble worth it. The most important thing, I think, is to guard your enthusiasm and energy like your life depended on it.

I’ve realized that my life is not a set path to be obediently followed; I’ve opened my mind to so many different possibilities, so many different routes that I can choose from. It’s not that Grinnell has given me these possibilities, it’s just made me become aware of them, and excited for them, and motivated to pursue them. While I’ve always had great dreams, they were nothing more than daydreams that I’d talk to my best friend on the phone about — the greatest gift Grinnell has given me is the realization that they need not remain dreams, because I have the ability to make them real.

The lyrics from the song that I quoted above is actually taken from book one, The Fellowship of the Ring, of the LOTR trilogy. In the book, it continues on:

Then world behind and home ahead,
We’ll wander back and home to bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!

So this is it. I’ve graduated, with my new diploma in hand, no longer a student but a new member of the Grinnell alumni, and I’m heading home.

This journey, difficult though it was in the beginning, has been worth it. The breakdowns, the tears, the endless papers, the brutal all-nighters, the anxiety, the piles of books and references that clutter our rooms… they’ve all been worth it. I’m glad I stopped being so anal about my grades towards the end of my time in college, because there’d been some golden moments that I would’ve missed if I’d holed myself up studying.

If I thought going to Grinnell alone 4 years ago was tough, leaving Grinnell now, with people I’ve grown so close to waving at me from the sidewalk as my car pulled away, was unbelievably tougher. Due to a slight mistake with our flight booking, I had to leave Grinnell a day earlier than I’d planned to, a day earlier than all of my friends did. While it was sad to leave them, the countless “I wish we could’ve drunk together one final time!” and the hopeful “I will see you soon, okay? I’ll come to visit you in Malaysia!” did NOT, in fact, feel like our final words face-to-face. These are the people who know me best at this point in my life, there was no way this was goodbye forever. Knowing this made saying goodbye a little bit less difficult.

I’m writing parts of this in the Hong Kong International Airport. In a few hours, I’ll be boarding yet another plane — one among countless that I’ve boarded in the past year. But this time, this time will be different, because I’ll be heading home.

I’m homeward bound, baybeh!

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