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Goeun Park: Find happiness wherever you can


“Goeun! Do you want to come whale watching with me?!”

“Um, okay. Yeah, sure…but it’s 3 in the morning, why are you awake? Why am I awake? Is this phone conversation even real?!”

Eight hours and a cup of coffee later, I was on a bus to Newport Beach.

To motivate students to get out in the Los Angeles area, my school hosts a delightful little challenge called “47 Things Every Sagehen Should Do Before Graduating.” (The Sagehen is the school mascot and spirit animal — we’re very fierce.)

Pomona College subsidizes fun day trips to beaches, shows, and iconic landmarks around Southern California. One of the “47 Things” is to watch a grey whale breach.

A good friend of mine came across an extra ticket last minute and insisted I took it. With my second round of midterms coming up, I hadn’t planned on leaving my dreary corner of the library any time soon, but the offer was too good to pass up. 

Although perfect days are the norm and not the exception in LA, last Saturday was absolutely gorgeous — the traffic on our way there proved it. Slowly, we made our way to Newport where we hopped on a boat to see some whales.

Surprisingly, we didn’t have to venture out very far to see some wonderful marine life. Less than ten minutes out of harbor, our boat passed through a pod of dolphins. They swam right up to the boat only to slink back into the water, foiling people’s attempts to capture the next National Geographic cover photo.

I gave up trying to take photos with my phone halfway through the ride. On one hand, I really wanted a physical keepsake of the trip; on the other hand, I wanted to do my precious time out in the open ocean justice.

I wanted to fully appreciate that moment without my usual tendency to fret about majors and money and, well, everything. So I dropped my phone in my bag and dumped my wandering thoughts into the ocean.

When one of the ship crew announced the first whale sighting, everyone leaned towards starboard. From a protocol distance, we stalked two grey whales swim up and dip down for maybe half an hour, maybe more. I lost track.

I don’t know if it was the whales or just being off campus for the first time in two months, but being on that boat that day with friends made me mind-bogglingly happy. I had sun seeping into my skin and saltwater soaking my hair and this warm tingle everywhere and it almost hurt how much I was smiling. Actually, it did hurt. It still hurts, but in the best way possible.

I think there are days when happy happens to you and days when you choose to be happy. Whale watching day was both of those days in one.

Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends college in California.