3 Numbers that Changed My Life

I majored in math for a reason, I’m a lot better with numbers than I am words, so today, I want to tell you about 3 numbers that changed my life.

#1. 31,878. That’s the difference between 122 and 32,000. As a math major, numbers have always held a special significance, but as humans, I think we struggle to comprehend their magnitude.

For some context, here are your college milestones. 89 is the number of majors you could have chosen, 120 is the credits you finished to earn a bachelors degree, 1,534 is the number of acres you walked around campus, and 31,878 is the difference between the size of my high school and the University of Utah.

Coming from such a small school, my transition to a large university was nothing short of overwhelming. I didn’t have AP, IB or advanced programs, so I felt behind in my classes. I was expected to have a thorough understanding of concepts I’d never even heard about. I didn’t have a large network of alumni and students to reach out for support. Ultimately, I felt like I didn’t have the tools to be successful.

When we transition to college, we leave behind our established friends, family and community. We leave behind our support system and are forced to build one from scratch. This requires effort, intention, and vulnerability. It means reaching out to new people, trying new experiences, and asking for help, even when it feels uncomfortable. As I look out into the crowd, I don’t see a sea of faces, I see my network.

31,878. It’s a huge number, and I felt every bit of it in my transition. But in my life, there’s one number that puts this to shame.

#2. 8,431. Though it’s less than one third of the size, the difference in that 8,431 is much greater than 31,878. 8,431 is the number of miles from India to America. The distance that my dad traveled alone, in an airplane for the first time without even enough money to afford a ticket home. 8,431 is the distance between my parents and their mom and dad. The distance between their favorite foods, their best friends, their childhood! 31,878 represents my transition to college, but 8,431 represents my parents transition to a new life. I stand here tonight not as an individual, but as a representative of a larger community. Their stories remind me, remind us, that success is not easy and it does not come quickly.

As an ambassador, I’ve led countless tours and answered many questions about classes, extracurriculars and campus life. I knew I would be shaping the experiences of other students, but what was most significant was the way it shaped my own college experience. By sharing my story with others, I was forced to reflect on my own journey and the choices that I made. This led me to appreciate the opportunities I’d been given and be more intentional about the decisions that I made.

Today is a day to celebrate not only the decisions we’ve made, but the decisions made by those around us and those who came before us. Their decisions gave us the privilege to make our own. Through their struggles and triumphs, we are able to stand here today on their shoulders and honor their legacy. So thank you. Thank you for sacrificing familiarity, and comfort. Thank you for sacrificing your loved ones’ milestones: birthdays, weddings, and funerals. Thank you for sacrificing the opportunity to watch your parents grow old and instead working to build me a new life.

I would also like to take a moment to thank those who have passed away. Though they are not physically here, their impact on our lives continues to be felt. Thank you for your unwavering support, encouragement and love. Your absence today reminds us of the preciousness of life and your memory and love continues to inspire us. Thank you.

Onto the third and final number: 6. When people ask me about my major, they make a face at my response. Even without words, their furrowed brow and squinted eyes says it all: “why math”. When I was younger, I loved math because I thought it was rigid. I naively believed that if you followed all the rules, you could solve any problem. In a gray world, I found comfort in what I thought was a black and white subject.

However in college, I quickly realized that was far from the truth. The subject I believed was black and white wasn’t just gray, it was a rainbow of colors. What scared me most were the unsolved math problems, 6 to exact. Some of these problems have been around for centuries, and even with the brightest mathematicians who’ve dedicated their careers to studying them, they remain unsolved. I used to worry that I too would remain unsolved. That despite everyone’s greatest efforts, I was just too difficult to figure out. That I would remain a hypothesis, an experiment, and never evolve into anything concrete.

Now, I take pride in that. The existence and pursuit of these unsolved problems is what keeps the field exciting. While they themselves may remain unsolved, the process of solving them leads to new discoveries, collaborations and insights. So tonight, I encourage us to embrace the unsolved parts of our lives. Some questions exist not to be answered, but to remind us what we are looking for.

Thank you.

by Sahana Kargi

This speech was delivered by Kargi who represented the Class of ’23 on May 4, 2023 at the College of Science convocation in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah.