Graduation. noun. The receiving of an academic degree; a ceremony marking the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another. See also: commencement.
Dear freshman Anna,
On Friday, you graduated from college.
Right now, you think this day will never arrive. And when it finally does, you will not have high expectations.
On the morning of graduation, you will be a cranky monster. The day will seem anticlimactic, since many of your friends will have already graduated and you’ll have four weeks of student teaching remaining. (You’ll stick with that double major you’re doubting right now. It will be painful sometimes, like when you have to continue student teaching even after graduation, but hopefully it’s worth it.) Worries about being late and not wearing the right thing and still having to go to school on Monday will be overpowering. You might have accidentally say “Can we get a move on?” out loud during rehearsal.
But graduation day will turn out to be surprising and complicated and sweet. In fact, your whole college experience will be surprising and complicated and sweet.
Right now, the campus buildings are still becoming familiar. You still don’t remember exactly where the registar’s office is (much less what a registrar does). In four and a half years, those halls and classrooms and sidewalks be stamped with memories.
You’ll spend hours in that office in 3rd floor Naz. That professor intimidates you now, but eventually you’ll work for her and she will find out all of the details of your life. You’ll learned the value of a juicy red pen and write sentences about a grapefruit named Ruby, who will go on dates and have picnics by the lake.
You’ll pound out workouts in the gym with the basketball team. You will be forced to play intramural volleyball games at 11:00 pm, and you will barely tolerate it. During the basketball season, being a freshman benchwarmer will knock the perfectionism right out of you.
You’ll live in Hartill 254 and 255 and 155 and 259. Now, you tote an Audrey Hepburn poster and a vague hope for community as you walk into Selah 2. You will find: some of your dearest friends, 2 staffs of Hartill RAs who will share stories and laughter and birthday cards and movie nights, a hall of girls you’ll lead and love for a year, much late-night conversation, brownies eaten straight from the pan, and the ability to hang decorations without nails. Your sister will live in two of those rooms a few years later, and that fact will amuse you.
On the island, you’ll swim on warm evenings and canoe on spontaneous dates. In a few weeks, your hall will go stargazing there, and when you’ve finished singing worship songs, you’ll accidentally witness a boys’ dorm initiation. An entire hall will streak by in their boxers, jump in the lake, and run back, yelling. They will never knew you were there. (You’ll also live in an apartment with the RA who organized this stargazing trip, which will be a random gift from God.)
You will not do much homework in the library. When necessary, you’ll find the tables by the big windows passable. The people-watching is the best there. Don’t go upstairs, where it’s too quiet, unless there’s a nice guy who you need to study Chinese with.
You will never establish one precise spot to sit in Maha, though you’ll prefer somewhere the right side, a few rows down. You’ll sing worship songs every Friday, and learn the names of people you will never meet as you scan their IDs, and tell 500 freshman about your search for identity. In this same auditorium, you will graduate.
On graduation day, you will walk in behind the World Languages banner, though you could have fit equally well under English & Literature or Education. You will feel a flicker of accomplishment when the president congratulates you for your honors, when you move your tassel and become alumni. Your boyfriend will surprise you after the ceremony. (Yes, you will get a boyfriend, if you follow the library and Chinese studying instructions.) You won’t be expecting him for another five days, and you’ll almost lose your mortarboard when you see him walk toward you, bearing flowers. One your current roommates will be there, catching the ceremony between her brother’s hockey games. She will have shared endless YouTube videos and buckets of support with you in the past years. Your family will take you out to dinner at one of the coolest restaurants in St. Paul, a former warehouse with tall skylights and excellent salmon. You’ll forgot your car on campus and the Public Safety officer on duty won’t ticket you when you call and beg for mercy. You still won’t like talking on the phone. The day will end with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream cake, a sweet finale.
Right now, as a baby-faced freshman, you think that this graduation day is a magic ticket to being a competent adult. You watch the seniors, who walk around campus so purposefully, and assume that in four and a half years, you too will have everything figured out. You think that you might have a job lined up, or the promise of a ring by spring, or maybe even style.
Hate to break it to you, honey. But at graduation, you will still feel as clueless and uncertain as ever. Right now, you value your own efficiency, discipline, and ability to excel. You place your identity in those things. In four and a half years, you won’t anymore. You’ll lose confidence in your own merit. You’ll realize how messy life is, and you’ll lose hope that working hard can fix everything. But you’ll gain more important things. You’ll find composure in front of a class of middle schoolers. You’ll discover passion for investing in relationships. You’ll gain definition in your cheekbones. And the things you’re learning in life are just beginning.
Every graduation speaker will tell you that commencement does not mean end. It means beginning. (Pretty sure you said this in your own high school graduation speech, actually.) It’s horribly cliché. But it is also true. You’re launching into the rest of your life soon, a new beginning, and it’s scary. You won’t ever feel totally ready.
But if you’ll learn one thing over the next four and a half years, it’s that you’ll make it, even through the scary and unknown and intimidating.
Have fun, kid. Make some memories.