Anyone who knows me or has interacted with me views me as a happy and positive person who is always smiling. Don’t get me wrong — I love smiling, and I try to smile as often as possible because I’m the kind of person who thinks giving out that outward appearance and being kind has a positive impact on me and others.
My smile has changed throughout the years — from a smile of a kid who only knew happiness to a smile of a 21-year-old who has more wisdom and has experienced more of the world.
There are many smiles of Lucy: truly happy, anxious, excited, bold, confident, self-conscious, shy, awkward, silly, uncomfortable, content, understanding, friendly, sad.
I know them all too well. And if you know me, you can pinpoint my mood or feelings based on my smile.
I had to smile through my last two years of high school as my dad got laid off from his job and couldn’t find anyone who would hire him. In his rare case, he was actually over qualified based on his age and degrees. He had a doctorate in chemistry and worked hard through years of schooling in China and then in the U.S.
He was always the one telling me as I went through middle school and struggled through high school that dedication and diligence in my studies would get me far in life. He would remind me that he was never the smartest, but he committed to studying hard, and he graduated top of his class.
When I was frustrated at myself for not understanding new concepts or not doing well on an exam, he would reassure me that I gave my best effort, and that’s all that mattered. He had the same response for everything I did — sports, piano, violin, standardized tests, school. My dad was a big believer and supporter of my education, passions and success.
Without a steady income from his job, money became an issue in our household. My parents didn’t have to tell me that they were worried about paying bills and providing for me and my brother, who was in his last years of college. I gave my parents a reassuring smile when I knew I couldn’t afford the same luxuries I used to enjoy. I wordlessly volunteered to cover more shifts at my job, and I picked up another side job through babysitting.
Not once did I ask for money. My parents gave me everything I wanted growing up, and I was raised by them to be mature, independent and responsible.
During this entire time, my dad never even considered the possibility that I should save money and not go to my top college. I remember when he told me not to think or worry about the costs and expenses. He is not someone who shows his emotions often, but he smiled at me and said if I really wanted to go to Lehigh, I would go to Lehigh. The other college I was considering offered me a much better financial aid package, but I would go to Lehigh.
We had to take out loan after loan, and I honestly don’t even know how my parents managed to pay for tuition all while keeping a roof over our heads. They never acted like there was a problem, and we lived on as if there wasn’t.
My dad always put my happiness first, and I never really stopped to think about it — to appreciate him and all he did and continues to do — until that moment in high school.
I forced a smile to try to stay positive when my dad eventually had to move to China to make a living and support our family. I smile and cherish the three times a year I get to see him.
Now that I’m graduating, the uncertainty surrounding when I’ll get to see him again in person is unsettling. I have to tell myself how fortunate I am that he is healthy in China, and we’re healthy at home.
But, I know whenever I do see him again, we’ll both greet each other with the biggest smiles.
Lucy Zhou is a managing editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].