As we prepare to turn our tassels and toss our caps into the air, as we prepare to bid high school goodbye and say hello to unchartered territory, I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on this momentous occasion.
To be quite honest, it hasn’t hit me. Even just hours away from the symbolic ceremony, I don’t feel that nostalgia or bittersweetness I think I should be feeling. I guess it feels a lot like a birthday. I counted down the days, picked out the perfect outfit, and am feeling that ‘Christmas morning’-type exhilaration that saves itself for special occasions. It’s inevitable, and universal, but unlike a birthday, we don’t earn this honor every year.
Many cultures that don’t practice the same customs of high school graduation—the formal ceremony and countless grad parties—perhaps question the degree of celebration. This is just the beginning, they might say, that there are many greater and more significant accomplishments in one’s life, like earning a college degree or landing a dream job.
While I certainly recognized the importance of graduation, I too never really understood the commercialism behind it. Does this achievement really warrant all those aisles filled with ‘Congrats Grad’ banners and balloons, all that money spent on jubilant parties and presents? Maybe it’s just another one of those occasions designed to reap Hallmark profits?
This event may not seem as big a deal when we look back later in life, and it may pale in comparison to future accomplishments. We clearly aren’t the first class to graduate and move away to new destinations and new experiences. Despite all that, I now realize why this moment needs to be cherished and celebrated.
Graduation represents our first major accomplishment; it serves as our ticket into the world. It stands for twelve years of official schooling, twelve wonderful years of being sheltered and privileged by our families, communities, and schools. It reminds us that we worked hard to earn our education, and that the knowledge we have gained is something that can never be taken away. It’s ours and ours only, and no matter how scary the world outside seems, our school has armed us with the most powerful weapon of all.
These past four years have been a lot like the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We experienced incredible friendships, which I hope last a lifetime. We danced the night away, cheered and chanted on Friday nights, and felt the invincibility of youthful optimism. But we also faced failures and heartbreaks, stinging rejection and typical teenage angst. “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” We received our driver’s licenses, worked our first jobs, and learned new languages. In facing new experiences and challenges, we understood the world a little better and strengthened our own identities. But we also made mistakes, procrastinated on assignments, participated in petty drama and worked too hard to maintain appearances. We made assumptions about people and didn’t say thank you enough to the ones we love. “We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” These four years are a special time, the glory days, as many like to say. We were encouraged to get involved at school and find a passion. We were told that it’s okay to be dreamers, and that there are so many great things that lie ahead. But at the same time, we were confined to just a tiny corner of the world. We were caught up in the monotony of jam-packed schedules and the bubble of a protective, but caring community.
In this tug of war, we have come out stronger. Because of it, we have learned about the paradox of life. We’re going into the world more aware of its complexities, more prepared to face the conflicts, and more appreciative of finding balance.
And though this day marks a transition to adulthood, I hope for the contrary. I hope we all become more child-like. I hope we find joy in the smallest moments, and I hope we befriend people instantly. I hope we say what we feel and ask for help when we need it. I hope we can mix maturity and sophistication with silly fun. And I hope we continue to plunge into each day with liveliness and spunk.
Wherever life after high school takes us, we will no doubt face many more obstacles, but also many more thrills. I think we’re ready.
Featured image credit to Ian Norman