Graduating with a blank piece of paper.

Tomorrow I’m getting on stage. Two words: Matthew Lew. It’s neatly handwritten with Dr. Grip Gel 0.7, carefully folded — damp with crisp edges.

I wear a oversized black gown — polyester blend with a black beret. I ironed the gown yesterday, but it attracts wrinkles. The package deal of $100 dollars, and my mom wants me to keep it — “Why, I’m never going to wear this again anyways.”

My parents are so proud. My instructors are so proud. Fellow friends and classmates are present too. I can’t stop turning around, searching for people — proud, frozen with a smile. Of course, my graduating class is disbanding. Not physically but mentally. Some are not here. A rush of emotion that I’ll hold back.

I hand over the blank paper — the two t’s sharing the same crossbar. These letters will soon be rendered into speech. My friends think ‘Matt’ is better, but I prefer ‘Matthew’ for this occasion. Wait for exhale. Walk walk walk walk walk. Shake firmly. Smile with a permanent smile. Exit stage right. Corridor. Door. Aisle. Crossing fingers to sit in the same warm seat.

I reassess the scene. Now, a larger piece of paper rests in my hands. It has heft. White space. But it’s just as blank.

This institution, this major, this location. Was it the best college to go to? Did I spend my 4 years here well? A hard yes, a hard yes. Everyone’s asking the daunting question: What are you doing next? Ooo, let me tell you…

I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I arrived, and thankfully I’m leaving with the same ambitions. I have been given life-changing opportunities — and I am extremely grateful for all of them. For this community. Scholarships, staff, employers, and friends. Past and present.

I receive an envelope three months later. It’s addressed to me. It’s not blank.

My diploma.