I’ll be the first to say it: graduating is pretty anti-climatic.
It’s funny because when you watch all the people you care about graduate, you’re always filled with so much admiration and excitement for them. And you expect to feel the same way when it becomes your turn.
But the time comes and instead of being filled to the brim with excitement over this pretty hefty achievement you’ve accomplished, you just feel empty.
I don’t mean empty in the sense of feeling too much pain that you go numb. I mean empty in the sense that there is now this giant void in your life. This very looming question of “now what?” or “this is it?”, without any concrete answers.
Most of us at this point have dedicated our whole lives to academia, it’s what we’ve been doing since we could first learn to talk and write. Working towards the goal of college and getting a degree, and now here we are. We did it.
But it seems so anti-climactic. It’s all just over. There wasn’t a huge “hurrah” moment, or a moment of relief as a weight is lifted off your shoulder. There’s just a blank feeling. A realization that this thing that has carried so much significance in your life is now over.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. A chapter in our lives is ending, which means a chance for a new beginning. The world is our oyster, or whatever. We now have bachelor’s degrees and a world of opportunity, right? We can do anything now. But most of us have no idea what to do, or what we’re doing. We pretend we’re excited to graduate, like we have our shit together, but really we’re just making it up as we go along.
It’s exciting to start a new chapter, to have a bunch of new opportunities ahead of us. But it’s also scary when you don’t know what you’re going to do with yourself. Your entire life you went to school, that’s just what you did. And you were obviously good at it if you made it this far. And now school, one of the few constants you’ve had in your life, is ending and being removed. This leaves a lot of empty space, a void of unknowing what’s to come.
It's hard to feel truly excited when you don’t have anything to fall back on, when you have no idea what the future holds, or what is to come. It’s hard to get excited when you’re leaving the world that you’ve created, known, and become comfortable in for the last four years. It’s especially hard when you don’t have something as similar to replace it with. You don’t have a life filled with as much stability, support, and routine, as you do now. Your life has been turned upside down and become one big question mark.
All of your family and friends are so excited that you’re graduating. They keep congratulating you and telling you how proud they are of you. And you should be proud, you did the thing, and that thing was hard! But you can’t help but feel weird, or that there’s something wrong with you because a part of you doesn’t fully feel the excitement.
You’re not alone in this. Graduating is one of the most bittersweet experiences. You have achieved a degree, gained knowledge, made life-lasting friendships, and forged great connections. But those friendships and connections are no longer going to be as easily accessible to you. Your friends are moving all over the world, accepting great jobs and opportunities. You yourself are moving on.
It's different from when you graduate high school and go to college. That was a scary time, yes. But the thing is all your friends either went off to college, or stayed around your home town. And you left and created this life for yourself at college. But when you went home on breaks, your high school friends were still there. Granted you didn’t see them as often and your friendships weren’t quite the same. But for a few weeks or months at a time, you had a small semblance of your high school life.
You don’t get that when you graduate college. College students travel from all over the world to stay at this one university for four years, and then when it’s all over, it’s over. Everyone parts their ways, and moves on. Sure, you’ll keep in touch. But life moves forward, and we all get busy, and it’s easy to forget to stay in regular contact with someone you’re not seeing every day.
You become sad and scared about all the wonderful people you have to leave behind. But then you also realize that graduating means you’ll most likely never have to see the horrible people you’ve been forced to interact with for the past four years and you feel a little excited.
In the movies, the characters are always blissfully happy of their achievements, and delightfully hopeful for their future. They make it look so easy. But in all reality, graduation is filled with so many ups and downs, and complex emotions that it can’t be that cut and dry. Leaving your life behind for an unknowing future, and attempting to find a job in this terrible economy is a bittersweet experience full of both fear and excitement.
And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel negative emotions.
The weird thing about graduation is that it happens so quickly after finals that you barely have time to process anything. You’ve spent all your time and energy focused on getting through your classes, your course load, and your finals just so that you can graduate. And before you know it they’re handing you this simple piece of paper with your name scrolled across it, and it’s over.
In the blink of an eye.
You don’t even have a moment to think about it. Everything you’ve worked towards for the past twenty-something years is over within minutes. Simple as that. Talk about anti-climactic.
And then your dorms rooms and apartments are all packed up and cleared away. And all your family and friends are there to celebrate with you and congratulate you, that you barely have a minute to focus on saying goodbye to all your classmates and friends.
And then the day is over, and it still hasn’t hit you that your undergraduate experience has ended.
You’ve been so focused one everything and everyone else, you haven’t had any time to process what is happening around you, or that the end that is coming.
I’m here to tell you to take time to reflect on your experiences, emotions, and enjoy what little time you have left because the end is approaching more quickly than you think. It’s okay if you feel empty, or you don’t quite feel excited. Graduation is a complex period of time full of existential crisis, and bittersweet emotions. Your peers are probably feeling the same way that you are, so it’s one last opportunity to bond over your shared experiences.
Just remember: in the end, you did this impressive thing and are graduating, and should be proud of yourself, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s all it’s cracked up to be.