Thoughts on Graduation

My friends and me at my graduation. I am the ginger/blonde to the left. Also pictured are Will (far left), Henry (center, will graduate this year) and Francie (far right.)

It’s a strange thing being a year removed from any rite of passage as common and important in our society, but here i am. To be honest, i don’t actually feel removed from it, except physically. I have so many friends, close and important to me, that are going through it right now.
The best i can offer them in terms of a gift is the wisdom i have acquired in a year. And somehow any way i slice it, that doesn’t seem like enough. When you graduate, you are so often given gifts that signal your entrance to a new stage of your life, adulthood. Interestingly, this next stage seems less like adulthood as our society progresses, and more like slightly-matured adolescence... But I digress.

The larger picture to me is that graduation is supposed to be a great coming of age, and here i am, watching my friends preparing to go through this rite, and they are all at different stages of their own coming of age. Some are in a place emotionally similar to where i am currently (at a year removed from this process) and some are where i was at a year ago. And still others of my friends are where my sisters are at emotionally (16-year-old sophomores) and have no clue what they’ll do next year. The common thing is only that they are all supposedly coming into their own in the next two weeks, having spent the last 4 years proving that they knew what the state deemed it necessary for a newly minted adult to know.

A short list of the things i knew at the end of last year: basic algebraic processes, how to write a basic 5 paragraph essay, how to expand 5 paragraphs into 5 pages with hardly any work, how to lie convincingly to my teachers about how my homework failed to get done again, and that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. That is, this is the information i was taught in required classes in high school, which i can remember clearly and have mostly retained in the intervening year. Things i wish i’d had explained to me more in-depth: how to do taxes, how to balance a check book, how to handle finances in general/dealing with bank stuff like opening and managing an account, how to handle making doctor’s appointments and keeping them, how to keep an up-to-date resume, how to include unpaid work experience in a resume, and how to keep contact with friends who are moving far away to go to college.

And i can say if my friends’ education was as similar as my own, (which it should have been, since we attended the same school) then they are in for a really nasty shock in the coming year. While college seems today to be more about prolonging the onset of adulthood instead of making it easier to face being an adult with grace, i worry that my friends will still find themselves in an awfully uncomfortable mess of culture shock. This shock, i find, is best summed up with an old tweet i once read “We are asking 18-year-olds to make decisions that will impact the rest of their life, when 3 months ago, they had to ask to go to the bathroom.”

As a senior, having read those words about a dozen times preceding graduation, i thought i was pretty ready for what college might toss my way. i’d even read some basic college advice websites that told me things that would be different, like the fact that most professors don’t want you to ask to go to the bathroom, you just go. Or that attendance, while important, is totally and completely up to you in terms of responsibility and motivation. i felt prepared, especially considering my personal feelings that community college was an even more gradual shift.

The reality was honestly that i never realized just how difficult it would be to motivate myself to go to that class that i was responsible for attending. i didn’t account for the fact that you may leave class at any time for any reason, and even not come back, but you are still completely responsible for knowing what was discussed while you were gone. That quiz next week won’t be postponed because you were sick, and you don’t get an extra 4 days to make up your homework when you missed a week of classes. I mean, college is a fascinating, challenging experience full of all kinds of new activities. But it also ends up being something you tend to feel thoroughly unprepared for coming from high school.

In high school, i never felt trusted to take my education into my own hands, or to even just give a message to another teacher without loads of restrictions put on me. I certainly never felt like missing classes would truly set me back, except in math and science where i tended to be terrible at the coursework anyway. In just one year of college, i have felt more responsibility put on me as an autonomous person to take care of myself than in 4 years of school. And i worry, quite frankly, that my wonderful friends with so much potential, are being sent forth into a situation that will crush a good portion of that potential underfoot, as they struggle with the most basic pieces of being an adult in college.

Myself, my friend Maddie who went away to Oregon for college, and our friend Jessica, who attends community college with me, at Jessica’s graduation.

I’ve tried to spend a good amount of time with my friends who are soon to graduate, and i’ve done what i could to impart what little out of my experiences i felt might be valuable. Because the idea that my friends will go into the same sort of mess i did, and end up in the same place as i currently am, really worries me. I honestly want my friends to be able to succeed, and to do better than i did. I hope that the sharing of my experiences at least gives them some idea of how things will shift now that they aren’t bound by high school’s strict standards and regulations, instead of tossing them out expecting them to be adaptable when all you’ve really taught them is how to memorize and regurgitate and not how to be critical thinkers and adaptable, free-thinking people.

This isn’t to say i think i’m in a terrible place, or that i think i’m doing horribly. This is to say that i feel like i’ve done the best i could with the preparation i was given. the failing isn’t, i think, in my choices. the failing, really, comes from the preparation i got. If graduation was meant to signal coming into one’s own, and college is simply more time to do that, then i feel like i handled that entire thing exceedingly poorly, because i don’t personally feel anywhere close to a coming-of-age. I feel like i’m stuck at a standstill emotionally, unable to progress because i didn’t get any instructions for how to proceed, nor any practice at adapting to rapidly changing situations. That is, i didn’t get any of that in my required schooling. It left me thoroughly unprepared for the areas of my life that psychologically mirror those things, while situationally being entirely new and different. (like college classes or registration.)

I also spend a lot of time warning my friends off of those advice op-eds that i feel do the wrong sort of preparation. In today’s age of information, you can go online and find any number of advice pieces for the transition into college, and into adulthood, and what kinds of things you can do to make it easier, or things to do because they work best for progressing quickly and normally.

Just the other week, i found a piece of advice warning high school students going into college that you don’t want to take early morning classes, and to above all, avoid the classes that are 3-hour-lecture-halls which only meet once a week. Having seen that the majority of my friends had seen it, i was so so quick to tell them that these are all subjective. It’s what’s best for you, and both of these pieces of advice have been very untrue for me. Early classes, and 3-hours-once-a-week were the best classes i’ve had thus far in college. But i do give the advice i do because these advice pieces don’t account for the individual. They purport to save you time and money in classes you’ll hate or activities that are useless, when they fail to add an asterisk at the end of the piece, reminding you that results may vary when applied to different lifestyles, learners, etc.

Just some of the friends i’m talking about in this piece. Clockwise from left: Kelsey, Claire, Sheree (sophomore this year), Maddie (junior this year,) Megan, and Zac.

Of the friends i have that are graduating, i have only 3 that i know are taking the same route as i have and am. What this means more than anything, is that as i watch all of my friends go through this process of graduation, of coming-of-age, and of responsibility-taking and decision-making, i try to remind them that all of the advice i’m giving is not going to be fabulous or even remotely effective for all of them. Not even the ones coming to my school are being told that the advice i have to offer will be perfect. I try my best when telling them which classes will be best, to remind them that i’m a theater major, i’m not undecided or in any STEM-related majors. I try to remind them that i’m just now getting my first job ever. I try to tell them that while ahead of them in school, i can hardly give them perfect advice because everyone’s situation is different and that they might not to be able to afford full-time classes this next year.

Most of all, i try to be the support for my friends that i wanted so much to have when i was first starting this journey. The main reason i feel so personally close to this graduation, despite the fact that i’m not graduating but bearing witness to my friends graduating, is because i want to be there for the people i care so much about, in a way i didn’t have anyone a year ago. Because the advice of parents who are 30 years removed from college is often more useless than the advice of complete strangers on the internet. And because even if you don’t get it all right, having someone there who’s willing to give you advice or even just listen to you having your breakdowns over the problems that keep coming up, is so valuable and so much of what i wish i’d had in a person last year.

In closing, i’ll just say, congratulations class of 2015, from a member of the class of 2014. We hope you do beautifully in whatever you choose to pursue in the next year, and beyond.

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