As I write this, in mid-April, amid allergy season, term paper season, and the middle of my athletics season, I probably feel a lot like you do — unreasonably tired and asking myself “am I getting sick or do I just need a Claritin?” So burnt out from schoolwork that I decided to pluck every weed from my mother’s lawn instead of writing my paper due this weekend.
Also, like a good chunk of you, a thought that pervades through all of the stress and emotion is that of my looming graduation.
A majority of you that are graduating this May absolutely cannot wait to do so. You’re posting senior photos, sending out graduation announcements and planning parties, anxiously and excitedly counting the days until you’re finally done. If you are one of these, congratulations. Your day is coming.
If you are like me, and May 11 produces more mixed emotions than straightforward excitement, that’s okay too. For me, graduation sounds simultaneously like a wonderful thing and a scary, inconvenient thing. Graduations in particular have always disrupted my life enough for me to evoke at least a twinge of disdain.
When I graduated 8th grade, I felt nothing but dread. My two best friends were going to a different high school. I was leaving all the faces of the teachers, staff and classmates I had built a community with for nine years. It seemed like the end of the world.
When I was set to graduate high school, a similar feeling of dread creeped in.
I had built a new world, with new best friends and a new set of familiar faces. Thinking about it throughout my senior year, I tried to talk the dramatic 14-year-old out of my head.
I applied to and got into West Point, and decided to stop the application process to all other schools on my list — except the University of New Mexico.
I planned around West Point; I visited West Point and couldn’t stop talking about how amazing it was, while all in the back of my mind knowing I didn’t want to go. On the last day to accept my spot, I wrote a long declination letter and instead accepted my scholarship to UNM.
I told my parents at an Applebee’s that night, and we all cried happy tears over our 2 for $20’s. I excitedly began settling into the idea of UNM, planning my living arrangements with my best friends and telling my parents we’d get dinner at least once a week. It felt like the end of a world, but the bittersweet beginning of a new, not-so-unfamiliar one.
Another four years, another built world, passed by in a blink. UNM graduation is one page away on my calendar.
My best friends are all making their own plans. This time, there’s not a safe route. There’s no option that would preserve the essence of this phase in my life, nothing I can do to ease into the change. In some ways, it feels like the end of the world again.
When someone talks to me about graduation, asking how excited I am to finally be done, I say, “Yeah, I’m very excited” and smile, despite a stale taste forming in my mouth. Graduation means an undefined period of uncertainty and discomfort.
But more than ever, this iteration of graduation represents a break and a needed change.
The last four years have been more difficult than I ever could have predicted, and produced the most intense range of emotions. Above all, the unexpected passing of my father during my junior year was a nuclear bomb to the most stable part of my world.
To name a few more: I lost my dog of 12 years, became the captain of a division-one rugby team, tore my ACL, was invited to Olympic camps, went abroad, and re-tore my ACL. I came out publicly, received an amazing job, had a gun pointed at me and began a relationship. I lost a friendship, and more friendships. I lost myself, found myself, and repeated the cycle a hundred times. It was a truly exhausting four years and now, at the end, I find myself now in complete physical, mental and emotional depletion.
The word “graduation” may never provoke an excited smile from me like it does from others. I might never feel exactly happy about it; the word just connotes so much more than the end of a phase in my academic journey.
But moving beyond my dramatic 14-year-old self, watching her whole world seemingly collapse beneath her, my 22-year-old, soon-to-be-graduate self waits for May 11 with a slight smile and a begrudging sense of serenity.
Graduation, amid all the scary decision-making and painful goodbyes for those of us who hate those things, is also a breath of fresh air that many of us desperately need right now. At least, definitely one I need right now.
So at the end of this semester, even if graduation doesn’t seem like a straightforward cause for celebration, try to remember that you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out for, and that the diploma represents making it through a lot more than a degree program.
Congratulations, Lobos. You’ve earned it.