Yesterday, I got on my skateboard for the first time in nearly two years and clumsily rode toward campus. The wind rushed by me just as the nostalgia did, and with my headphones in and the sun on my face, I grappled with the idea that I was going through the same motions as I did sophomore year, only now as a senior on the other side of a global pandemic. I waved hello to a some old friends that I passed by, who now live in the green neighborhoods surrounding campus rather than the dorms in the Village. Then, as I neared campus, I encountered the cracks in the ground that I had all but memorized how to maneuver around to avoid faceplanting on the ground, and I was surprised at how much of that memory the feet on my board seemed to have maintained. It was a comforting sense that though I had changed so much during the past however-long, this ride to campus—the weather, the people, and even the cracks on the ground—would never change too much.
As I finally stepped into class, it hit me that not only was it my first in-person lecture back, but also that I was now taking graduate courses (as part of PDP). It was ISE-633, Large-Scale Optimization for Machine Learning, a class I’ve been interested in taking for a really long time now. While it was exciting to be in this class alongside real-life people once again, I was once again reminded that as a senior, I have one foot on campus and the next one nearly out the door into adulthood. But if the nostalgia of the skate there taught me anything, it’s that USC will always be a place that I can think of as home. And even if I was virtual for much of my time there, both academically and interpersonally, it’s really helped make me who I am.