After four years of due dates, textbooks and sleepless nights, I have finally graduated.
People often ask me if it's "hit" me yet or if I miss college, and they're often surprised by my untroubled answer. The thing is, I was never the kind of person who enjoyed sitting inside a classroom. Although I'm thankful for my amazing education at UCLA, I often felt that my university experience lacked a touch of the "real world." If it hadn't been for the Earl Woods Scholarship Program (EWSP), I don't think I would've grown as much as I did. Getting good grades in college was one thing, but forcing myself into heels and learning how to conduct myself professionally and thoughtfully was a whole other animal. Looking back, I consider the EWSP to be my real college education.
I came into the Earl Woods Scholarship Program as quiet as a mouse. I don't know if it was because of my upbringing, my Vietnamese culture or what, but I rarely felt the need to talk. If I could sit quietly and listen, I was comfortable and content. I hated talking on the phone. I was afraid of awkward silences. And I was always self-conscious about my ability to carry a conversation. One time, I even asked my mentor, Paul, if we could exchange emails as our main form of communication when we first met. Well, Paul rejected my request. He was emphatic about it. Four years later, I can understand why he denied a wee little freshman this seemingly insignificant wish.
Throughout my four-year journey as an Earl Woods Scholar, I was often thrown into situations that I did not like. From speaking in front of people to unexpected mock interviews to forcing myself to talk to professionals in unfamiliar, intimidating settings, I sometimes dreaded those EWSP workshops. The first two years were challenging -- just trying to figure out my strengths and learning to be more confident in my abilities. I knew I had to change and force myself to become more open and engaging. But to do this, I struggled with who I was as a person. It didn't feel natural to talk so much, but I guess that was only my stubbornness talking.
But the years went by, and I forced myself to step up to every challenge. I went to every workshop. I put myself out there. I learned to take initiative as an intern at the Tiger Woods Foundation and in return got to interview and meet so many notable people as a blogger at Foundation events. I grew more comfortable with the other scholars and realized that they, too, had their own insecurities. And most importantly, I figured out how to grow into my own without having to compromise my personality. I guess something just clicked. I have my mentor, Paul, to thank for that.
After my graduation, Paul handed me a small black box. I didn't get to open it until the next day, but what I found inside was a handwritten letter, appropriately sealed in wax since I was an American literature major and I love that sort of thing. It was completely unexpected. Working through my mentor's words, I realized at that very moment how much I've grown and accomplished. I hope that Paul won't mind my sharing what he wrote, as it's too heartfelt to keep to myself:
"It's hard to believe that just four years ago we each had such trepidation entering our relationship. I remember being nervous, excited and hopeful when we met for coffee that very first time. You are the same person today Jenny -- just infinitely more secure and confident. I have enjoyed witnessing your self-reliance and ambition evolve. You will go far in this world.
"Had I been a father, I would have wanted my son or daughter to be a person of character and principle, someone who seeks to excel but not at the expense of others, someone who will stand her ground, someone who will create her own happiness and celebrate the lives of those for whom she cares. You, Jenny, are that person."
Four years ago, I never would've guessed how much my mentor and I would mean to each other. Four years ago, I wouldn't have taken the time to get to know someone so different from myself. To me, Paul's words were an affirmation that it is OK to be different, and that my quiet strength was something that he, a professional, could respect. It dawned on me that I didn't have to change myself in order to be successful; it was rather a matter of expanding my horizons from what I already had inside me. In return, I thank Paul for his continuing patience and understanding, for being an active listener, for recognizing me as an adult and for playing such a huge part in my life in the last few years. As for Paul's own personal growth, he is learning to become a better person each and everyday, even at the all-knowing age of 52. I like that we can talk as if we're old, trusted pals.
I thank the Earl Woods Scholarship Program for helping me grow -- and for growing with me. Thank you.