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Seven years ago, I came to Los Angeles unsure of what to expect. I had just finished my first year in high school, and out of curiosity, signed up to shave my head and join a monastery for a week.

Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the strict lifestyle, the orderly procedures for virtually everything, and the constant use of Mandarin at Hsi Lai Temple. Although I was barely able to communicate, I was enamored by the lifestyle, and by the end of the week, eating meals in meditative silence became a smooth operation.

Over the past few years, I spent summer after summer and weekends upon weekends at my precept monastery, which literally became my second home while I studied at Pomona College. At times, I felt like I was living a double-lifeā€”one in the monastery and one at the university.

But the worlds overlapped.

I started at the monastery trained to obey the strict schedule, and I carried that with me into the university, waking up at 6 am every morning for meditation and recitations in my dorm before class. From eating silently in Claremont’s seven dining halls to checking out volumes of the Avatamsaka at the campus library for recitation purposes, my first year in university was one that was indeed tinged by my time in the monastery.

As the years passed by, my academic responsibilities increased, I started asking if friends wanted meals together, and my sleep schedule became seriously distorted. But, I still punctuated my days with recitations and my weeks with campus Buddhism meetings and trips to the temple.

Now, as I graduate from Pomona College with a degree in Asian Studies, I am unfazed by the Mandarin conversations at Hsi Lai Temple, and I have learned to adapt to strict schedules, loose schedules, and everything in between.

Looking at the pictures from seven years ago and just one day ago, I chuckle. A lot has changed over the years, but just as how I started my journey in black Buddhist robes, I conclude this chapter of my life in black academic robes.

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