Graduation is a funny thing. It’s meant as a celebration, but all too often it’s a bittersweet one, accompanied by feelings of loss and fear. We’ve done it countless times before; pre-school (man, did we have it good back then), kindergarten, middle school, high school, and now college. But it still feels weird, like there’s this evasive cloud looming constantly over my head, bogging my mind and preventing me from moving forward or rationalizing what’s really going on, preventing me from understanding that it’s really and truly all ending in a matter of weeks.
There’s countdowns everywhere – in academic buildings, offices, Instagram captions. And all that talk of “lasts”– it's already started. Last fall semester. Last registration. Last dance show. Last night class. Last last last. With the reminders of leaving everywhere, it’s hard to remember that there are so, SO many firsts still to come.
How do I put into words what it’s like to look around and try to hold onto everything as if my eyes are some sort of video camera, with their film playing on repeat in my head, only to realize that in just a short while the tape will become all fuzzy and the emotions won't feel the same? How can one describe what it’s like to know time is running out in the weird not-yet-an-adult-but-not-a-kid-anymore dream world that college encompasses? How can I articulate what I feel when I see messages about move-in day and back-to-school promos, fully knowing that for the first time in my life, I won't be returning to a classroom this September?
I’ve been surrounded by people my age for so long that I can’t imagine it being any other way. And yet… I can. Any form of adaptation takes time, and this is something we mournful seniors seem to forget.
Once we were nervous wide-eyed freshmen, with vivid, fresh memories of the high school we left behind, eager but also a bit wary to embark on our next chapter. What if all that we left behind in high school was better? What if we couldn’t handle this new life?
But oh, how we adapted. We started complaining about 8 A.M.s and back-to-back classes after a mere month, as if we hadn’t been going to 6-hour blocks of school starting at ungodly hours of the morning for the past 15 years.
Well, here we are again. Trying to hold these days close to our heart because we know we’ll never get them back, and yet knowing full well that once we start our next journey, we’ll adapt just as we did when we started college. A year from now, we’ll look back and wonder what senior year “us” was feeling, and why. Why were we so worried? Why were we not just enjoying every moment? Why didn’t we realize that our life doesn’t end at 22 years old just because our college experience does?
I think we pick a moment – a perfect, spectacular moment – and we hold it high above our heads, in such esteem that we convince ourselves that this is it. The peak. The pinnacle. The end. Nothing will ever beat this moment. And I think a lot of us choose to remember college as this moment, avoiding any thought of what we’ll do when this moment vanishes forever and becomes nothing but a vague memory we have to piece together. For, after all, moments are anything but tangible, and they vanish just as quickly as they occur.
But to do this – to hold this moment in our heads and revere it and mourn it incessantly – is to romanticize the reality… I mean, college, like anything else, was awful some days. Brutal. You got frustrated. You got angry. You cried and you lied. You couldn’t wait to “get the f*ck out of here” and go home for winter break. Teachers never responded to your emails, housemates never took out the garbage, people pretended you were their friend when they were drunk and then ignored you the next day. Hell, I haven’t had a decent meal in weeks.
I just don’t know if I buy into the hype that it’s all downhill from here – in fact, I know I don't. These are not the “best years of my life” – they’re great, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but they’re not the best. And while the next few years may not be all that great for all of us either, as we find our footing and adapt once again, I have faith that our life doesn’t end just because we won’t see the same 500 vaguely familiar strangers out at the same bar every Friday night.
It’s weird to think about graduation this way, as if it’s overdramatized and drawn out. People might wonder, “Don’t you realize that a year from now you’ll still wish you were in college?” Maybe I will, but it's more likely I won't.
I have no doubt in my mind that, come graduation day, I will be grieving the end of my college career just like everyone else. And even now, I try to enjoy the life and home I’ve known and made my own for as long as I have it. But I also know that for me, there is no “I wish I had more time.” There is no thought of returning in the fall, weird as it is to say. I know it’s my time. I chose to come to this school freshman year for a reason, and now I’m leaving for a completely different reason. If I held up a mirror to my last four years, I would see an evolution that even I didn’t know was coming. I can't help but feel very detached from the nervous girl who lived in a freshman dorm so long ago, but I know deep down that even she would understand why I’m ready to move on, why I need to move on.
I'm going to miss college, but not the parts of college that give it its infamous reputation. I'm going to miss the people and the opportunities it presented me; the feeling of happiness when you print out that final paper and practically skip to class to hand it in, the camaraderie that comes along with organizing and participating in events with your peers, the random joy that makes you laugh with delight when you round a corner only to bump into your friend. As cliche as it is, it's these little things that I'm truly going to miss most.
And as for my friends, well, words could never do my college friends justice -- for helping me develop into the person I am today, for showing me what true friendship is, and for brightening up every dark day. But just because we met in college doesn't mean this is the end of our journey together, and knowing this comforts me at such a strange crossroads in my life.
Nothing will ever be the same, and I’m sorry for that. There’s no avoiding that a lot of the time, change just... sucks, especially when you’ve become so comfortable with the way things are.
But I also know that you never know what else awaits you until you take that first step – in this case, off the graduation stage, diploma in hand, and out into the world. And I, for one, am excited.
“Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.” – Mandy Hale
Carpe diem, class of 2017.