Life for graduating seniors like me, across the world, has been upended. The vision we had of graduating on stage to celebrate the achievement with our friends and family has been postponed indefinitely.

As a graduating senior at USC, this semester I took a Physical Education ‘Introduction to Mindfulness’ course with Linda Yaron. We learned what it meant and felt like to be present in the moment. We experienced looking at moments of our lives with openness and curiosity. Through this class, we learned how to be more accepting of what is instead of wishing things were different. When the pandemic hit, our learning and practice was put to a test. We were asked to attend classes online, and for some of us, we had to suddenly move back to our homes to ‘wait this out’. For me, that meant unexpectedly returning home to India to attend classes across time zones at 2 am. For our class Mindfulness Virtual Graduation Celebration, Arianna Huffington shared her wisdom as a guest speaker and I spoke on behalf of students. Here’s what I had to say to my peers and to those graduating this year:

To the Class of 2020:

“Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”

What a time to graduate right? We will hear people say – these are such hard times, it’s the worst time to graduate, the economy couldn’t be worse, the job market couldn’t be tougher. Some people will feel really sorry for us while others will be too busy feeling sorry for themselves. We’ll hear them say  “There’s so much uncertainty! There’s no knowing what’s going to happen or when it is going to get better.” 

But let me tell you one thing, what has happened during these past few months is the perfect analogy of what life is. It’s true. Things are uncertain. Things are temporary. We don’t know when life, as we know it, will be back to “normal”. 

I’m sure we all spent these last four years planning our futures and working towards landing that perfect job or maintaining that high GPA or trying to get accepted in our dream school for a master’s degree. But the pandemic might have changed what the present ‘should’ have looked like for most of us. Yes, it’s true that we might have planned and prepared for jobs that don’t even exist anymore. But on the other hand, we might not have envisioned the opportunities that might spring up now after this huge shift. 

Robert Greene said: “There’s two types of time – Alive Time and Dead time”. One is when you sit around and wait until things happen to you. The other is when you are in control, when you make every second count and when you are learning, improving and growing. We have to choose to make every moment a moment of alive time. We have to decide to be present. We have to make the most of whatever is in front of us. Decide to open our eyes, open our ears, open our mind. ‘Don’t let the past blackmail your present into ruining a beautiful future.’ The pandemic has happened. The economy will suffer. But what is your next step, in the now? In the present, will you choose alive time or dead time?

As an international student, getting a job in the United States is a tiny bit more complicated. On top of competing with everyone for the limited number of jobs, we need to ‘compete’ with other international students for the work visas. From finding a company that sponsors visas in the first place to hoping yours is the name that gets chosen in the random selection of the visas that the government will grant. Interesting fact, the chances of winning that lottery is 30%.

It had always been a vision of mine – being in the US right after graduation, working in a highly innovative environment, living the ‘work 5 days a week and chill on the other 2 days’ life, being away from my home, my comfort zone where it will be harder for me to grow. I got a job offer last month and I could finally see my dream coming true. I had started looking for apartments in Newport beach and started planning how often I will be seeing my friends in LA. 

Fast forward 3 weeks, I am back home in a completely different time zone, unsure of what’s going to happen with my job offer, and how will the work visa guidelines change. I had the hardest time letting go of the idea of working in the US. For the longest time, I kept complaining and hoping things were different and this wasn’t happening to me. It seemed like my senior year was snatched away from me or I never got to see through my numerous plans like 9O senior nights every Wednesday or my last spring break with my friends. But, one day I just told myself: This is the present. You are back home. Thousands of miles away from the place you think you should be at. But you’re not there. You’re here. I knew it was up to me how I spend these days in lockdown- complaining about the past and worrying about the future and the uncertainties that come with it or accepting. Accepting that everything is temporary. Accepting that just because what I wanted my future to look like isn’t feasible anymore, doesn’t mean I don’t have other options. It doesn’t mean I stop living in the present. Accepting that I will be fine, no matter what. We’re all USC graduates, with a high-quality education and a lifelong network of people at our disposal. So yes, while your present doesn’t look like how it ‘should’, but the moment you accept that there is no ‘should’, accepting the uncertainties and the changes becomes way easier.

So, there’s no point complaining about the past because it has already happened. There is no point stressing about the future because it doesn’t exist. The only thing that exists, that’s true, is the present. 

“Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.” And what that Now looks like for you, you decide!

Fight on!