It has already been six months since I took that walk across the graduation stage, and time has done precisely what it did while I was a student… it has flown by. I made the biggest mistake one can make in life: I blinked. I closed and opened my eyes and four years had passed in between. It is truly hard to believe, and harder to accept. I got asked how I felt many times, and each time I did not know what to say. As I would tell them, I always did not know how to feel — I felt everything and nothing at the same time — but if I had to choose and emotion, I would choose sadness. While I have come more to terms with my life now, it still hurts. It is still scary. It is still anxiety-inducing. Yet, it is still… kind of exciting.

This all starts (at least at JMU) with filling out your graduation application. Here, I will try to explain it using the seven stages of grief…

1. Shock.

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It hits you out of nowhere. You have the right conversation, see the calendar for the first time in a while, get that email about application deadlines or ordering your cap and gown… and you cannot believe that it is already time to think about this.

2. Denial.

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You deny it. You choose not to accept it. You are like, "No, no, nope… no way. I am not graduating. I will FAIL a class on purpose. I am not leaving!" (But underneath, you know that this is ridiculous… but it is what you really feel).

3. Anger.

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You start to reflect back on your years and experiences in college, and you aren't happy… You can't seem to find the joy and pride in your work, only the shortcomings. The unfinished business. The failures. And you wish you could go back in time and fix what went wrong. Make things better. Change the past. To be better. All of the bottled up emotions runneth over, only because you don't know what else to do.

4. Bargaining. 

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You jokingly talk about failing a class or whatever, so that you can stick around for another year… but you know that is not a real goal. Underneath, you really do wish that you could find a way to stay… but you know that it is all in vain. The time comes and goes. It crawls by, and yet passes in the blink of an eye.

5. Depression. 

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This is the point of no return. Rock bottom. You know the future to come and that it is inevitable. You grieve for the time that has passed. You bask in the memories of what has been. You cry for the ghosts of days gone by.

6. Testing. 

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At this stage, the tears have rolled and things have sunken in. The emotions have flowed (and continue to), but you are now in a clearer state of heart and mind, Now… you start to focus on what lies beyond, or what may lie beyond. You plan. You dream. You start to feel the excitement. You start to feel joy. But most importantly… you dust yourself off, you finish that grad app and turn it in, and you go buy your cap and gown.

7. Acceptance. 

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The journey is done. The time has come. The adventure is over… and a new one awaits. You hear your name, you take the walk, you turn the tassel. And for a moment… you are not afraid. You are alive. You are new. You are free.

Now, you have a life to start living. SO LIVE IT!

You only get to do it once, so make it a great one.