The day I graduated is something I won’t ever forget; the emotional outpourings and how alone I felt yet at the same time, how connected I felt to strangers – and watching stranger after stranger walk across the stage, knowing they’d lived the same experience I had just lived through, except not the same experience at all.
As a university administrator, my colleagues and I joke every convocation that we give loving waves to students who cross the stage that were less-than-easy to work with (whether or not the student is at fault for the lack of ease); we’re glad to see them go, either because their journey was such a struggle for them, or our journey was such a struggle because of them. Either way, we’re saying goodbye.
Is ‘convocation’ really a ‘goodbye’ moment? It’s certainly a rite of passage; it’s a young adult’s entrance from “student” to “adult”. Is there a difference between these two? In terms of lifestyle I would say the answer is, most definitely. And leaving that student life behind was something I grappled with heavily, and something that weighed on my mind in my first year of “freedom” – once in a while, echoes of that life still cross my mind; I was so poor, and so happy, and drank 8-10 cups of coffee a day on a bad day. I spent my time with friends on campus and I was never alone. I was stressed about things that only mattered in the moment. Once the moment was gone, so was the stress and it would be onto the next thing. I discovered myself in those years – what I loved and who I was, and who I loved, and who I wanted to be. And who I didn’t want to be. Once all those uncertainties are figured out, real life evens itself out and those dramatic adventures cease. We grow up and we realize that the “student” part of ourselves is gone. And we are just fully-fledged adults.
Watching my the convocation ceremony today, for the graduates of the program in which I work as a faculty advisor, I was reminded of the significance of my degree. So much work, tireless effort, commitment, tears, laughter, smiles, communication, love, hate and memories make up that piece of paper. So much so, that for me it is the most significant piece of paper I will ever own, no matter where academia takes me in the future. My BA mattered to me more than anything because it represented the greatest and most emotionally resonant five years of my adulthood thus far.
Today’s convocation is also my last convocation as an administrator at this institution. After next week, I will be gone myself and like the new graduates, I will be moving onto the next great phase, the next great adventure – returning to school, leaving my city, leaving my apartment, leaving my job, leaving my friends – and getting the very fortunate opportunity to start all over again in a world I’ve never inhabited before. I wonder how it’s going to feel and what it will look like and be like. It still hasn’t sunk in yet that this is all happening to me after years of wondering if it would ever happen at all.
I sat in my gown, cloaked around my shoulders with my Bachelor of Arts hood, and watched speaker after wise speaker address the graduating class of 2013, dispensing words of wisdom, words of caution, and well wishes for the future. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was one of them and almost felt as emotional as some of them perhaps did. This was my graduation too, and my goodbye.