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In the past, we have been taught to plan things out so we can minimize the unpleasant surprises and have a clear sense of direction in life. Coming from Hong Kong, a city with a competitive learning and work environment, the importance of having a “game plan” whether it is made by our parents or ourselves, is emphasized from childhood. To be well-equipped for the next step of the way, we must work hard to get good grades and polish our portfolios and resumes to increase our chances of getting into a good elementary, middle/high school, university and eventually a high-paying job. I felt the impact of this mentality more and more as I grew up because each new step is more crucial than the last to my final destination, which is financial security, and unforgiving in the sense that there is less and less room for mistakes. I still remember in the beginning of high school, all the freshmen had to attend an assembly where teachers and university advisors gave us a presentation on how crucial our grades in those four years were to our future prospects. Our teachers constantly reminded us of this too, and soon my friends and I started to do the same to each other. 

We spent the supposedly most carefree days and adventurous nights of our lives before adulthood burning ourselves out over every test and project, thinking that if we messed up on anything, we would essentially become a failure. Then somewhere along the way, when we had to pick our AP subjects and start thinking about university, we were inevitably haunted with the dreaded, existential question of “what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” (as if our lives are in our hands). We were told that it is okay not to know what we want to do, but everyone knows that the people who do from a young age have an advantage in university applications. So we made our best attempts to map out our lives because planning felt better than panicking. One of the things we had planned was to live our best lives during our senior year after applying to university, before we parted ways.

Little did we know, 2020 was our senior year. In addition to the pandemic in 2020, there were conflicts and changes in our city starting from the latter half of 2019 that no one could have expected. With the cancelled school days, I feel that we did not make enough memories to look back on later. 2020 was undeniably a year of loss, uncertainty and difficulty. To me, it was also a year of regret. 

I spent most of high school living in the future, worrying about tomorrow, next year and the year after, and forgot about now and today. I did not savor the seemingly mundane moments during high school– the lunch breaks, seeing my friends every day, Fridays-after-school hangouts and birthday dinners– that now belong in the past. To me, an eighteen year-old, 2020 seems to be a preview of the adult life that I have just begun: it is full of uncertainties and it often does not go the way I planned or expected. 

So while planning, studying and working are responsible steps to take for my future, I will soak in the moment the best I can and find some kind of happiness, no matter how small, in my daily life. I will stop and let myself marvel at the way the light and colors slowdance in the sky at sunset, watch the motions of this vibrant city from the windows of buses and spend time with my loved ones while we are still in the same city. Afterall, we do not know what surprises tomorrow will throw at us, but we know for certain we have today. Maybe that is enough.

Casey Chan

UC Irvine '24

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