I have always considered myself a late bloomer.

Height: still working on it.

Academics: did better my first semester in college—supposedly more tricky because of all the transitions—than in high school.

Friends: Became a lot more social since starting college.

Food: Didn’t discover the wonders of Chipotle until freshman year of high school. Didn’t try Indian food until a month ago.

Me facepalming at all the joyful wonders of life I had missed out on

Consequently, it hasn’t been a big surprise that college has been a lot more enjoyable so far than high school—I feel more comfortable with who I am, and to some degree I think I have grasped the beginnings of my purpose in the world. As I finished up my freshman year at Cal and took one last look at my dorm before leaving for home, I remember feeling a mixture of satisfaction, gratefulness, and pride for what I accomplished, and nothing but excitement for the year ahead.

However, as I scrolled through Facebook and clicked “like” for the numerous graduation photos for both high school and college seniors I knew, my excitement unexpectedly started to fade. I felt a strange twinge of regret, and at first it was hard to find the source of these sentiments.


Looking Back: High School Me

If I calculated the net amount of happiness that I experienced in high school, I would say it would be positive. However, it was unequally distributed. There was a ton of drama freshmen through junior year–negative conflicts contrasting with favorable events, pushing my level of enjoyment up and down like a sine wave. Every argument and mistake felt amplified, as my younger teenage self struggled to mitigate the damage, and every achievement inflated like a balloon–augmented, but easily popped by negativity.

It could probably be represented by cute balloons, at least

This constant process of growth, however grueling, was necessary for cultivation of a strong individual, so I still appreciated the experience. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.


Senior Year: Glorious Ending

It wasn’t until second semester senior year of high school that I reaped the positive experiences and results from my hard work up until then. I remember walking into band camp as a timid freshman, watching in awe at the bold, confident drum majors conducting and vowing to one day become one of them. I remember sitting in the spring assembly, year by year, eyes sparkling with admiration as the chosen senior received the $10,000 scholarship from the Lam Corporation. I remember listening intently as the band director announced the recipient of the John Philip Sousa Award, the top band honor for seniors, every year at the spring concert. I remember dreaming of one day rightfully wearing a Berkeley T-shirt as an admitted student.

Just last spring, I fulfilled all of these dreams. I became the NorCal Field Conducting I Champion as a drum major from my high school. I received the $10,000 Lam scholarship, walking the very same footsteps across the gym as the seniors I watched for so long before me. My name was added to the plaque of John Philip Sousa award recipients on the wall in the band room. I got to cheer “Go Bears!” alongside my fellow Cal ‘20 family, dressed in blue and gold gear.

Excited + Grateful :’)

The concentrated happiness and appreciation I felt in my last semester of high school was incredible–it made the lack of sleep, intense academic stress, incidents of tears in the past years all worth it. But now, scrolling through all the graduation photos after my freshman year at Cal, I somehow feel a strange sense of loss.


A Promise That I Will Hopefully Remember

I don’t think high school really counts as four years. I grew up with my classmates since elementary school (technically fourth grade, since that’s when I moved to the district). We played on the swings together. We went through the middle school clique phase together. We pursued our interests in high school, and wound up as leaders that underclassmen looked up to by senior year. However many conflicts I may have had with various people throughout the years, that doesn’t change the experiences that connect us.

I have always tried to not have regrets. Yet now when I look at the graduation photos of my senior friends, I know that I have quite a few. I wish I developed friendships more at the beginning of high school, rather than waiting until junior year. I wish I had been more outgoing, I wish I took more risks, I wish I appreciated that time together with my classmates more. I wish I focused more on the positive rather than the negative, and I wish I worked harder.



These wishes I have don’t change my overall net positive high school experience. I think they are a promise to the future. I don’t want to have these regrets at my senior commencement at Cal. In some ways, this is my last chance. Once I graduate, I’ll be a full-fledged adult, expected to pursue graduate school or work at my first job and start developing professionally. I’ll be expected to pay rent, buy furniture by myself, file my own taxes…it’s quite frightening.

I think I made good time so far. In my first year, I have laid a strong foundation for my future goals, and so far I am somewhat sticking to my four-year plan. But I don’t want my college experience to be like high school, where I take three and half years of trial and error for half a year of success. I want to constantly move forward–with a few missteps here and there–and know that day by day, I am working for something more. But most importantly, that I am happily doing what I love, with friends and family, as cliche as that sounds.

Go Go Go!


I hope in three years, I’ll be posing for photos with friends in my graduation stole–my smile carefree, my heart pounding with excitement, my mind marveling at what I achieved in college, my soul already in full bloom. Though I may be a late bloomer, well, better late than never, right?

Sara Tsai

Sara is part of the Class of 2020 at UC Berkeley, intending to double major in Business Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies. As a graduate of Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, CA, she is well-accustomed to the boba scene in the Bay Area, and her favorite toppings include pandan noodles, red tapioca, and lychee jelly. In high school, she was the 4'10'' "tiny but mighty" drum major of the marching band and best known for her penguin drawings.