“Is that a periodic table t-shirt? You’re cool.”
It’s not every day that your nerdiness is recognized as hip or trendy, or even as something that could pique the interest of a very attractive woman. But this t-shirt did the trick, and this attractive young woman wanted to talk to me.
I opened my mouth, preparing my inner “Good Will Hunting” speech, expecting to unleash my unparalleled intellect. This person will think I’m suave. This person will think I’m smart. We’ll become friends, then lovers, have kids, grow old together, and we’ll never fight. Ever.
But nothing came out. Well, whatever came out was not articulate. It was mumbling, mixed with a pre-pubescent hiccup that caused my face to go red. Needless to say, she ran off to find some a hunky jock with strapping biceps (or so I believed). Something about the Pit Pub always took away my ability to speak, and for a first year engineering student, this would not bode well for my remaining years at UBC.
Although I did not meet my wife at UBC, I did find love. UBC has a certain quality, an ethereal quality, that brings out fantastic traits in its students. The students are filled with optimism and a feeling of possibility, that life should be lived to its fullest and that the riskiest endeavours will end up being the most rewarding. I felt no different.
I would spend all day, every day, on campus, even though I lived in Richmond. I explored nearly every building, every nook, every cranny, hoping to uncover something different, something special. I’d eat half-priced food at the Delly in the SUB on Friday evenings, and line up at the newly opened Tim Hortons in the Forestry building. While everyone would sit down in Forestry to study, I would sit there to stare at the beautiful wood structural members reinforced by structural steel. I’d stare at the pictures of the graduates from the early 20th century in the HEBB building, laughing at the accepted hairstyles at the time. Someone had drawn, with a Sharpie, on one of the pictures, giving this particular graduate an admirable moustache and menacing fangs. I’d visit the Economics wing and the English department, wondering what kind of things people were writing. The smell of this building smelt … “literary” – that is, dusty, with a slight tinge of various teas, coffees and offbeat body odours.
I did not explore just out of curiosity; I was waiting. I knew this girl from high school that I harboured especially strong feelings for, and she would often have classes late into the day. I would wait for her, but never told her, hoping that we would be able to see each other at day’s end, and spend some time enjoying each other’s company. If it worked, our meeting would seem like fate, when in actuality, it was quite calculated. Looking back, I laugh at my naivety – one time, I waited nearly six hours. When I found out she had already gone home, I went for the bus stop, and on the way a seagull relieved itself on my head. I didn’t find out until a good Samaritan pointed it out to me – too bad I was on the bus, halfway home by this time, exuding foul odours that caused fellow bus riders to offer me far more room than I required.
But one time it did work. I was reading a book in the Fred Kaiser building, and she was getting a coffee at Starbucks. I called out her name – she smiled at me, and told me she was done for the day. She said how fortunate it was that I was done too, and at the same time. How fateful, I smiled. It was a beautiful spring evening, sun shining, air clear, trees budding, and students smiling. I asked her if she wanted to go home. No, she wanted to stay. She had a lot on her mind and wanted to think it through. Some kind of risky decision she had to make. Again, that ethereal UBC quality.
We sat on Main Mall, close to the Engineering Cairn. The Cairn was littered with graffiti; not unusual. We stared at it, as if staring at a Picasso, trying to extract some deeper meaning. But we came to the same understanding every time – Engineers like sausage, and far too many eggs were on the Cairn that should be used to feed hungry students.
She asked me – Why did you choose engineering? I said, because it’s practical. She said she couldn’t see herself doing anything else. In our following silence, I realized that I avoided the question. Why did I choose engineering? It just seemed like the right thing to do. It was practical and provided ample job security. But something felt wrong about this thought, but this feeling was interrupted by her next words. She told me that she could tell me things that she couldn’t tell anyone else. My heart fluttered, and I held her close. We sat in silence for what seemed like hours, connecting on a level beyond the physical – something that baffles me to this day. I loved this person. I loved her for asking me the tough questions and making my mind turn in ways that I didn’t think it could turn. But why was her question so tough? Because I realized that I had risked very little by going through the everyday flow of classes at UBC. I could do more, and I should do more. Again, that ethereal UBC quality.
The next year, I signed up for New Venture Design, a young program combining engineering and business students to design a product and form a company. It was the start of changing my train of thought and how I look at life. Darren Dahl, Paul Cubbon, Philippe Kruchten and Peter Lawrence inspired me with challenging questions and fantastic assignments that had real-world bearing. Although I did not form a company upon graduation, I realized that the world was huge. HUGE. And one should find their passions, and more importantly, act on them. It’s more than an ideal way to live – it’s a responsibility.
Needless to say, the girl and I didn’t work out. It couldn’t – I lacked love for myself and experienced little of what the world had to offer. But although I didn’t take away the love from another woman, I found love for myself. The environment of UBC spurred a fire in me, and to this day, I still search, hoping to continue finding the things I love, and more importantly, to act on them. I have so much hope for the future, and so much love to give, that I can’t stop chasing this dream of contributing to this world in a meaningful way. I didn’t just take away a degree when I left UBC. I took away UBC’s ethereal quality, forever marked on my soul.
I was at UBC for six years, and each spring I watched Storm the Wall but never participated. I have a neuromuscular disorder that has weakened the muscles in my body, and will continue to do so. As a student I could cycle reasonably well (running or swimming were not an option), but I never believed I could make it up the wall. I cannot lift my arms above my shoulders, much less pull myself up a towering 12-foot barrier. It was a mental hurdle as much as a physical one. I couldn’t bear the thought of being a handicap to a team, so I never reached out to others. As much as I wanted to, I felt participating just wasn’t for me. In the spring of my last year, friends approached me to join their team. I was excited, but hesitant. Surely they must realize the disadvantage we would be at? How would they lift me up? And I wasn’t that fast on the bike! They rebuffed each negative thought – they wanted me on the team, and we would make it happen. I got my road bike in shape and trained. If nothing else, I could be fit for my bicycle segment (and a few pounds lighter for my teammates). I practised the cycling circuit along Main Mall, even crashing once from a loose handlebar. When the time came, I was ready for what may come. I don’t remember our times, or how many heats we were in, or much about the races. But I do remember the feeling of storming over the wall every single time! It was a huge relief for my heart and my mind. I am so grateful to Amanda, Erin, Graham, and Oliver. With their help I not only hurdled the barriers I saw before me, I was reminded that I had no reason for doubt in the first place. Thank you for helping me overcome that wall within me.
Professor Glen Peterson gave the class a 14-page take-home assignment on China’s Cultural Revolution. My girlfriend, Tally Renee Davis, BA’13, and I decided to complete the assignment at Irving library. It was exam season, so the library was filled with students who were scribbling fiercely on their notebooks, eating leftover pizza, napping on desks, shuddering nervously with their coffee cups, or playing StarCraft to avoid studying. By 1:00 am, the majority of students were trudging their way to the exit. An hour later, only the two of us were left in the library. We genuinely enjoyed this beautiful tranquillity. Time seemed to cease to exist. I remembered William Faulkner’s quote on time: “Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” We did not talk to each other. We simply transported our minds to the late 1960s when Mao ZeDong mobilized the Red Guards. The moment we realised what time it was (5:00 am) we began to feel groggy and lethargic. Tally desperately needed to lie down and nap, and I snapped a photo of her lying on the couch with both of our coats as her blanket. It illustrates our dedication and perseverance (we both earned our first A+ as a result).