On Wednesday, May 23rd 2018, I finally got “hooded” at my graduation ceremony for receiving my doctoral degree and I walked across the stage as an eye doctor.

A few of my closest friends were able to attend my graduation ceremony (Ricky, Julie, Hatsuho, and Steven). Julie had bought a plane ticket in order to fly down from NorCal to see me at graduation. My brother, father, and mother were also there, of course. Even one of the former technicians from the naval hospital I externed at was there to cheer us on! She had recently left the military and moved to SoCal for school, and came to our graduation. That was so sweet of her. I felt so incredibly grateful that these special people were there to support me.

Before my friends left for dinner (I already had celebrated with them the evening before because I knew my family and I were going to celebrate with a dinner immediately after graduation), I ended up sobbing so much. I felt so much love. I was just so overwhelmed. So grateful they were there to support me at that moment, and there to support me throughout all of these difficult, sometimes unbearable years. It felt unreal that I was finally reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, when there were times where everything just seemed impossible.

I inevitably thought of Mart, and my heart really ached for him, wishing he was there. A third of my life he was there to cheer me on; he was there for my high school and college graduations. Now… he was absent for my doctoral degree and absent from my life.

I also didn’t feel right celebrating graduation since I didn’t pass all of my exams yet. I would feel more complete if everything was done and squared away.

So, when people ask me if I’m excited and happy, well, I wish they wouldn’t ask me. I know they are asking out of happiness for me and out of cordial conversation, but it hurts a little each time. Regardless…I know I’ve earned my graduation. I’ve successfully completed 4 years of optometry school – all of my classes, exams, skills proficiencies, clinic hours – and nobody can take that away from me.