Patience and Toughness, or How I Cared For (This) Future

grad cap
Ovid: “Be patient and tough. Someday this pain will be useful to you.”

It has been a month since I graduated from college. I felt the heavy weight of academic responsibility become lighter–no more pressure to meet deadlines on assignments or cram on reading densely written texts or coming to classes I more or less tolerate because the atmosphere was so… But nevertheless, I took something out of the experience. It taught me the value of Ovid’s words. 

In high school, I read a novel by Peter Cameron called Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. The novel did not really captivate me in a profound way, but it made me want to live in New York City and experience the protagonist’s high culture lifestyle (but he is so distraught by the city life that he looks up real estate listings in the Midwest). But what really caught my attention was Ovid’s quote which the novel takes its title from. I wanted to know what exactly was the protagonist’s “pain” and how it will be useful to him. More importantly, I wanted to know what Ovid meant by “pain” and how being patient and tough attributed to overcoming it.

It was not until college that I began to understand the meaning of Ovid’s words and how it applied to my life at that point. For the past four years, I have experienced pain that I could not articulate to anyone because I was afraid it was nothing compared to other people’s pain. But it was the kind of pain that I never experienced before. In some way, I needed assurance that I wasn’t going crazy, that there was validation for what I was feeling and if other people were going through the same thing. But I remained silent.

For the first two years of college, my mental and emotional state underwent tremendous transformations. You know when a spider crawls up your arm and you get scared and brush it off? The scare wears off in a few seconds, and you are able to return to whatever you were doing before the discovery of the spider crawling up your arm. For me, it was like hundreds of spiders crawling up my body, and no matter how many times I brush them off, they keep crawling back up. I was always on edge, especially since I had a suburban upbringing and ended up going to school in the city.

Even as I reached the second half of my college career, the feeling of crawling spiders persisted. Oddly enough, I got used to the feeling. I felt more alert and aware of my surroundings, able to predict others’ movements and words because it was all pre-meditated. My mental gears switched from being afraid to being tough, trying to survive each day without encountering suspicious characters or falling into conflicts that posed potential danger on my livelihood. Although I felt I became stronger with experience, I felt weaker in my humanity.

All I can say is that I was becoming someone different, in a way I did not like. It is still hard for me to explain, but I hope one day that I will. When I realized this transformation, I had to take a moment (or a few) to ask myself, “What am I doing? Why am I letting myself get carried away with all this?” It was difficult for me to accept responsibility and hold myself accountable for my actions and words. But I had to do it because if I kept pushing the issues aside and pretending that I had nothing to do with the consequences, then I would do more damage than preservation to my character.

So I felt it right to decorate my graduation cap with (the first half of) Ovid’s quote. The decoration of a grad cap is symbolic of the person wearing it, to show off his or her personality and uniqueness. I wanted to show how I arrived at that moment of finishing my undergraduate studies: by being patient and tough. It was a long time coming, but I finally arrived at the moment. It was more than just maintaining a GPA or submitting papers on time, but it was learning how to allow myself to grow. I had to accept the worst moments that happened and enjoy the best moments that made moving forward possible. What I needed to keep in mind that someday, this pain will become my story.

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