As I refreshed the page for the 70th time that day, I wondered which would give up first — my phone battery or my mobile data. With each tap, I feared that UP was a dream far beyond my reach. The university registrar had said results would be out on April 30, which made that Monday infinitely more dragging than usual. Finally, the screen loaded. I scrolled as fast as possible to the list containing surnames beginning with “R,” and I finally saw mine.
However, the course written beside my name was not my first choice. Seeing my second course choice, I was not heartbroken. I did not have time to be.
I hatched my freshman year plan in 25 seconds. Enter the program for now. Get the highest possible grades. Shift out after two semesters. That’s all I really knew at 18 — one foot in front of the other, Step 1 to reach Step 2.
Three months later, I enrolled in my first major classes under the program Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., I jumped from lecture to lecture, learning as much as I could, but not devoting more time than was necessary to any notes. I took 30-minute lunches when my schedule had breaks. At the end of the school day, I returned to a dorm nestled between rambutan trees.
I went to bed with only the sound of crickets as accompaniment to the plan, which by then had become a song: “Do well, shift out... Do well, shift out...”
The first clue
Though my major classes spanned different branches of the discipline, one constant between those classes was the unrelenting embrace of questions. Professors encouraged us to ask anything and everything that would develop insight into the subject matter. It was 2 p.m. on a Tuesday when I found my first clue.
The afternoon sun danced off our classroom window as I asked the most awkwardly phrased question I’d ever spoken: “My eye says that the curtain is blue, but do I know it’s blue?”
Our professor replied: “What makes you ask this?”
As I went through the rationale for my question, the professor nodded slowly. At that moment, I realized I was doing philosophy. Turns out, “What makes you ask this?” was exactly the response I needed.
If I was predestined to take a certain college course, why was I spending so much energy on deciding the “right” one?
For the first time, I imagined what staying in the program would look like, what three more years of that kind of analysis could do for me. That image was a clue, but it wasn’t convincing enough yet.
I kept comparing that hypothetical future against others. On one hand, I could shift out toward the future my 18-year-old self had envisioned, one wherein I was writing and investigating as a journalism major getting ready to be the next foremost newspaper editor. On the other hand, I could shift out toward my 12-year-old self’s ambition of political science, crafting what I thought was the most direct path to law school.
Discerning which course was for me felt like the midpoint of a mystery film.
The second clue
The second clue that this course was for me was drawn in bright red ink. After my last class, I claimed a graded term paper from a second floor pigeonhole. I flipped it open to see a giant “1.00.” Allow me a moment’s joy at this point. I had worked diligently on that paper, submitting my proposal weeks before it was due, seeking multiple consultation sessions, and revising several drafts. But my grade was not the most interesting part. Under it was a comment, in cursive, saying that my paper was promising enough to be developed into a thesis. That shattered a doubt that had been weighing so deeply and heavily on my shoulders. After months of feeling adrift in philosophy, I finally knew that I could contribute something useful to the field.
That evening, I called my best friends, saying: “I like this idea, and I am willing to see it through. I want to see what I can do in this course.” That fateful night, my undergraduate thesis was born.
The third clue
The third and final clue waved hello on a Wednesday morning. In a thought experiment, a professor asked: “Is it possible to reconcile free will and predestination?” I walked to my next class formulating my answer. After all, choice was the heart of my dilemma.
If I was predestined to take a certain college course, why was I spending so much energy on deciding the “right” one? Don’t all the inspirational tweets say that what is meant for us will find us eventually?
“Yes,” I answered in the end. I can be free and still be meant for a path, as long as I freely choose that path. In my gut, I knew what that was.
The day I decided not to shift out, I felt an odd peace. I knew I was ready to give all the energy of the next three years to this discipline. I knew it would train me in the analysis needed for my future career as a lawyer. The summer before sophomore year, I wrote “B.A. Philosophy,” no longer as a placeholder but as a promise.
Three years later, I can say that my certainty came when all the other options became afterthoughts. When I realized I had found “the one,” I did not need to call any other course “the one that got away.” Thoughts of the other degrees I could have pursued come around once in a while, but they have not haunted me in a long time. Those possible futures are no longer resounding “what-ifs.” Where I am now is where I want to be.
I write these words as a fresh graduate, a medal hanging from my wall as a reminder of the second choice that became a passion. The medal is embossed with the words “Summa Cum Laude,” an affirmation that I chose the course meant for me. I recall these memories as an incoming first year law student, now daring to chase the next dream while enjoying every step of it.