I returned to Los Angeles last night from Sacramento with my son. We had gone there for the 56th Commencement Ceremony of the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, which took place on 15 June 2007 at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis. The ceremony began at noon and finished just past 2pm which is about the duration of a typical concert.
The highlight of the ceremony had to be the conferring of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degrees to 122 men and women (predominantly women) who had worked extremely and strenuously hard for the past four years, day and night often in indescribable and somewhat inhuman conditions in pursuit of scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. Stephanie, my daughter, whom now should more appropriately be addressed as Doctor Stephanie Wan, DVM, was among one of them.
The Class of 2007 had elected a Faculty Speaker who is a Professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine – Gastroenterology to be the sort of keynote speaker for the occasion. He began by suggesting that he was their third choice and that he had accepted the commission because he could not bear to see the students – his beloved students – being turned down a third time and having to scurry for another speaker. He then said he would try to be informal and humorous and impart some words of advice with the graduating students, but stressed that he would settle for the former objective if the latter one did not work out. The Faculty Speaker was all praises for the Class of 2007 on whom he obviously had thorough research and personal knowledge. He spoke of the trials and tribulations they had gone through, their hopes, fears and expectation, the strong bond between them, and of the strength, courage and love they demonstrated as a cohesive group when one of them died last October, rather unexpectedly. He even went as far as congratulating the students who would be getting married in the next few months and the one who gave birth to a child the day before and hence could not be at the ceremony.
Before the Faculty Speaker spoke, two students from the Class spoke in turn and in their words and personal interpretation of the highlights of the four years. Both spoke why they were motivated to take up what they regarded as the greatest profession on earth and of the great fellowship, friendship and unbreakable bond they had developed and established with each and every member of the Class. More specifically, they spoke of this long awaited day as the biggest and happiest day of their lives in the last decade. They had all waited for this day for a very long time.
There were many other speakers, but almost without exception, they all spoke of the greatness of the education Davis offers for anyone interested in taking up veterinary science as a career, of the wisdom of the students for having chosen Davis to pursue their goals, and of the selflessness and sacrifice of their parents, spouse, children and families for having supported the students all these years. In short, members of the Class of 2007 were the stars of the day and their parents, friends and families should be proud of them. It was all rather plastic at times and very much Americanism.
Back to the Wan Family, I have said in my last letter that I looked forward to the occasion as the first time in almost three years for a family reunion. To prepare for it, I booked my flight three months before and I asked my son to book a room in Sacramento and a hire car well in advance. Stephanie had told me that most hotel rooms were booked a year ahead.
The day before the Commencement Ceremony, we got up in LA at 5am and left Rowland Heights – my son driving – around 5:30am for Ontario Airport where we boarded a flight leaving for Sacramento at 7:35am. At Sacramento, we claimed the hired car we booked and drove to the hotel. We then made contact with Stephanie and the Wan Family finally met together at around 3pm.
The reunion was not exactly emotional or tearful. We drove up to Davis in two cars, Stephanie showing the way. Davis was flat and agricultural country, hot, sunny and dry. We went to the house which Stephanie shared with two other friends and two cats, one of them hers. It was about 4pm and she had booked places in a restaurant for around 8pm; so we went out for some light food and beverages. The rest of the day was spent eating and drinking; and there was hardly a moment for person to person father and daughter chat. I even detected some mood changes during dinner.
Lawrence and I drove back to Sacramento after agreeing with Stephanie that we would meet up again in her place before 10:30am on the day. It was a good 30 minutes drive, mostly on freeways and with good navigation. Luckily, we only missed the exits once; and we hit the hotel just after midnight.
We checked out and drove back to Davis on Commencement Day without breakfast. Stephanie navigated Lawrence to Mondavi and asked us to wait in the queue outside as she joined her classmates to get in first, all in their best dresses hidden under their velvety academic gowns and black-clothed caps. It was 11am and the Davis sun was hot and unforgiving. Luckily, we were admitted to the foyer after 15 minutes where we waited another good 30 minutes before we filed into the concert hall. The venue was rather modern, somewhat like our Academy for Performing Arts in Hong Kong and could seat over 1,000 in the audience easily.
The stars filed in to music provided by the San Francisco Brass Company, beginning with Land of Hope and Glory. The music was familiar, for similar tunes were played at the commencement ceremonies of both children, in 2001 when Stephanie was conferred BA in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley, and in 2004 when Lawrence had his BA in Psychology from the same University, both occasions of which their mother, my dearest Rosita, could not attend. This time, Rosita attended from another place, overlooking the entire ceremony from above and watchful of every detail. She would not have failed to notice for example how small Stephanie appeared on stage even on four-inch heels. She would be extremely pleased and proud of her and her achievements. When she missed her daughter’s 2001 Commencement Ceremony, she promised her she would attend her DVM conferment; and so she did.
The Provost and Executive Vice-Chancellor of the University of California delivered the final remarks to the graduates. Once again, she was congratulatory and complimentary of them, and she made al the politically correct statements. She invited all the parents, spouse and children of the graduates to stand for recognition, and then asked all the graduates to stand in ovation to the people who had made their day possible, emotionally and financially. She also assured the parents that from this day, their children would receive income for their work; and she congratulated the fathers in particular, as it was so close to Father’s Day.
The School of Veterinary Medicine had laid out a reception immediately following the ceremony, in the foyer where we waited for admission earlier. We were starving, but there was still work ahead. As a start, I need to take pictures of and with the star of the day. There were no tears, although there was plenty of hugging. After a while, we all agreed that we needed food, proper food. But first, Stephanie would need to change. So we were back to her house; and the Wan Family was joined by two of her very close friends both of whom I knew. Indeed, one of them was at her first commencement ceremony six years ago; and the other, at Rosita’s funeral.
It was a rather uneventful and bland lunch, both the food and the conversation. Maybe we were all very tired. Stephanie was pre-occupied with packing: she had hardly begun and the move was planned for 18 June, which was not too far ahead. But more immediately, she was expected to be at a drinking session later in the day, followed by a dinner between fellow DVMs. I understand it was time to say goodbye, however unwilling or reluctant.
Such are the privileges and obligations of parents. When I was small, I was taught, indeed instructed to listen to the parents, to do what I was told; and to be obedient at all times. Additionally, the Good Book commanded us to honour our fathers and mothers. As I grew up and became a parent, it became fashionable for parents to listen to their children, to be mindful of their feelings and not to interfere with their lives. I wonder when it would be the turn for people of my generation to be listened to.
I have waited a rather long time for the meeting, and there were questions for which I would have liked answers from her. The Commencement Ceremony has come and gone, the family has met, the pictures taken, but the questions remained unanswered.
I have been told in the past four years and for the umpteenth time that I ought to be a proud father, for having brought up two very fine children, in particular this young and pretty now Doctor Stephanie Wan. I am indeed proud of Stephanie and of her achievements. I am proud of myself too. Parenting has never been easy; and parenting by oneself must be more than doubly difficult. There were times I had waited long for returned calls which sometimes never came; and sometimes I had mixed signals from my children.
In the last two days, for example, Stephanie had inadvertently given me a rather strong signal which could suggest that she would have liked to have more support from her parents over the years; particularly in the early years. When I casually asked her how long she had been in America, she trotted out the date without thinking, to the date.
Well, it would be academic to ask whether her parents had taken the wrong decision to have left her by herself in Irvine one day in August 1994, nearly 13 years from now. She has obviously done well and I am always proud of her. Getting into the School of Veterinary Medicine as a start means that she was amongst the very top students of the year; and that cannot be bad. As to support, emotional support in particular, we could all have wanted more, whoever we are, wherever we are.
There would be a time when I would be able to tell her how much I love her and need her; but probably not yet. For the time being, she is busy with her new priorities and she needs time to settle in. She has taken up an internship in Ventura which she said does not pay well, but that it is the experience she is after. She has vowed not to return to Hong Kong. Well, only time will tell; and meanwhile, this parent will simply wait, until the conditions are conducive.
It is Father’s Day now in Hong Kong, and I wish all you fathers out there a happy time. I hope to talk to you again soon.