Two days before my 18th birthday, at 1 AM on a Monday morning, one of my best friends told me that she was going to die. An official brain scan was going to be done soon, but her doctor already knew the expected result. Maria had a brain tumor, and it was going to kill her.
I was a wreck that week, and I spent much of the next several days fighting each minute to keep the torrent of tears at bay. I was upset and terrified but also furious at the world that could deal the cards of fate so unfairly, giving someone who had struggled so desperately for joy only the barest glimpse of it before cruelly snatching life itself away.
The doctors in this case later proved to be wrong about the tumor, but cancer is not the only thing that makes my friend’s life an uncertainty these days. I still have reason to fear on some nights that she will no longer be there when I wake up the next morning, and I live in the gut-wrenching terror of watching someone I love walking the ever thinning line between life and death, knowing that there is not a single thing that I or anyone else can do to change her fate.
Death made its mark on me just as it makes its mark on everyone who encounters it, in the death of a loved one or even in the death of a stranger. It makes us realize that even if someone is young and bright and healthy and beautiful, that even if the average life expectancy of an American is supposed to be seventy-nine, death can happen anytime and anywhere to anyone. It reminds us that we and the people around us are not invincible, and that our lives with others are finite. It makes us cherish each of our days and accept each one gratefully because we know how abruptly and unexpectedly life can end.
This scholarship in the memory of Carol Phan resonates with me because it reminds me of my friend Maria. While I never knew Carol personally, I have heard many stories from those who had known her about how kind, intelligent, and beautiful she was, and how successful her future could have been. Maria, I think, is similar. Her humor, imagination, intelligence, and strength never cease to surprise me, and I find myself often wondering how I was ever fortunate enough to be blessed with such a wonderful friend.
It is a terrible tragedy that there are such lovely people in the world whose lives are cut short before they can realize their dreams. This scholarship reminds us of the importance of staying safe, but I think it also reminds us to live our lives to the fullest. For the sake of all those who never had the chance to accomplish all that they could have achieved, we should do our utmost each day to discover and pursue our dreams, our loves, and our passions.
Life is truly beautiful, and we should make it our duty to never forget that.
Inyoung will be going to Cornell University. Her major will be Computer Science.
Drive Safe! Never Forget.