10/22/2012 12:09 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

A Nod, a Smile and a Crosswalk

On my way back to the dormitories, I waited at the crosswalk for the traffic light to change colors (jaywalking tickets are unfortunately common at UCLA). A man dressed in a UCLA striped shirt stood next to me. We did not exchange words but we exchanged friendly smiles. His friend came by and commented that he was excited that it was Friday. The striped shirt man replied that he has to work on the weekend. The striped shirt man shared, "I have two little kids at home, I am thankful for any work that I can get. They call and I come in for work."

I smiled, as the man's tone was quite refreshing amidst a dark week of stressed students with midterms and job interviews. As we made our way across the street, he shared a story of how he was shot and had seven surgeries in the past couple of years. He called the recovery process a "vacation" because in that kind of situation, that was the only way he could deal with what had happened to him.

At the end of the crosswalk, before we parted ways, he said "through life's horrible moments, you find life's greatest gifts." I took a left toward dormitory housing. He and his friend took a right to the parking structure. I glanced back at him, thankful that our short encounter had made my day. He looked my way. We exchanged nods and smiles, the same exchange we first made when we stood by the crosswalk moments ago.

Though we never shared names, I will forever remember his story and his inspiring life perspective. When people ask me what I love most about my university, I tell them about the innovative professors and passionate students. Everyone has a story to tell and lessons to share. UCLA supports their students to dream, to pursue their dreams, whatever that path may be. As a college senior, I am incredibly grateful for my college experience. Before I know it, I will be a college graduate, out of the safe Westwood bubble and into the real world.

What I remember most about my university life are memories associated with smiles and life lessons. There was that night a group of us watched the waves roll in past midnight and waited for the sunrise. The time my professor and I discussed disability rights, civil rights and equal rights. That time we marched the streets to defend public education and chanted as a group of students to fight for equality. The class when my group members and I interpretive danced to our textbook reading. These memories--not the textbook exams or flashcard terms--are what I remember best about college. These are the life stories that make me smile.

You never know who may inspire you next. It may be the person standing next to you at the crosswalk or the student sitting next to you in class. Simple life stories and beautiful exchanges with just a nod, a smile and a crosswalk.