Captain Awkward has an essay on graduations. Read it.
Dear Sugar also has an essay on graduations. Read it now.
I’m writing essay on graduations. Read it after you’ve read the other two. Please.
I handed in my Masters dissertation only a few short months ago, and yet it feels like it’s been a million years. Since then, I’ve barely spared it a thought – when I got my feedback sheet, I looked through it, but I had already forgotten what I’d written about. When I got my examiner’s board results, the strongest emotion I felt was a minor dissatisfaction that I wrote so many essays where the final mark did not factor in my overall score. (I know. I know. How middle school, right?)
Perhaps it will come as no surprise to you that I was planning on just having my Masters degree mailed over.
Back when I was an undergrad (all the way in 2014) I still entertained a wildly romanticised version of what a graduation was. I thought it’ll be emotional and exciting and leave me buzzing. At the end of the day, though, I felt tired and rushed and seriously let down. To add insult to injury, not only is there photographic evidence of the day, but my family (not just my parents, my entire family) insists on displaying my graduation photo for everyone to see. (You know, the one in which no-one looks good in.)
Yes, of course, graduation (like prom and birthdays) is a social convention that is more about the family than the actual person involved. I wish I’d realized that sooner because maybe I wouldn’t have had such a miserable day last year. Luckily for me, now I know better.
So, instead of telling you all about how miserable I was in the lead up to this year (another 50 quid for cap-n-gown, Jaysus!), here are a few ideas as to how you, future potential graduates, can make this easier for yourselves:
- If your family is coming over, go out for dinner. The trick here is to do this LITERALLY ANY DAY OTHER THAN THE ACTUAL GRADUATION DAY. Why? Because you’re not the only person graduating, which means that finding a place to sit down and eat on the day will be impossible. If your university is a big one, and has to stretch its graduations over several days, I highly recommend booking a table in advance.
- Go out with your friends. Before family arrives or after they leave, ideally both. Or, if you are not big on going out, throw a movie night/games night/ hanging out and eating pizza night/all of those things at your place.
- Or, if you’re more introverted, give yourself a you-night the day before and after, because graduations can be mentally exhausting, and you can reach your social limit really fast (believe me, I know.)
- Self care! Haircuts, facials, manicures, new clothes, a nice long shower, or a bath, a hot meal, a walk in the park, giving yourself permission to browse your favourite bookstore for as long as you want – whatever it is that works for you, do it.
- The Zen approach to pictures – basically, accept that you will not like any of the shots and be pleasantly surprised when a few come out right. There are tons of posts on the Net with advice on how to pose, what products to use, how to smile and whatnot, but let’s be real here: the pictures are not for us. You can post them on FB and your friends will like them in passing, somebody might even comment, but really, a week later they will be gone and forgotten in the duster servers.
- Do you live close to where the graduation is taking place? Is there a way for you to nip off to your room between picture-taking sessions, diploma-handing, and gown-picking?
- If you don’t live nearby, is there any way you can bring some music along? Have a walk with your headphones on? Play Tetris on your phone? Or Sudoku? Or Chess? Or read? Or check your email? Or upload a post on social media?
- In fact, if last year was any indication, graduation day involves a lot of waiting, either sitting or standing, so distracting oneself is pretty much a survival mechanism.
- Graduation speeches! If the speaker at your college is not up to your taste, have no fear! There are tons of commencement addresses on the Internet. In fact, if you are so inclined, why not write your own? You can read it out to your friends or just bin it – but if this is something you might like to do, go for it!
- I didn’t write a graduation speech, but I did take one of my photos and made a scrapbook collage where I drew on it and added all sorts of captions which I thought gave a more… honest account of my undergraduate experiences than the photo suggested.
- Do the things you like to do – in the weeks leading up to it, and afterwards, don’t stop doing the things you like. Some activities you will leave behind, but others you will carry with you. Just because you got your diploma doesn’t mean you have to immediately transition into the next Adult Mode, whatever that is.
And listen to Sugar and the Captain. They know what they’re talking about.
I’m going to be brutally honest here: both of my graduations, I was depressed as absolute fuck. I wasn’t happy, and I hated everything. I despised having to put on a face, and posing for pictures, and acting like I had roses and rainbows waiting for me on the other side. Self-care only got me so far. As I write this, I’m in my pajamas, nursing a pounding headache and a cold, and trying desperately not to panic about writing assignments.
In the end of the day, graduation was a painfully accurate rendering of life as I expect it to be: I won’t be enjoying myself all the time. I’ll be putting on a smile for others most of the time. Moments of pure happiness would be small, unexpected, totally random and highly appreciated. And at the end of the day, when Imposer Syndrome prevents me from hearing other people’s praise, the best I’d be able to say is that I made it in one piece. And the most commitment I can make for the day after, and the day after that, is that I’ll do my best to survive them, too.