Right now, about 1,160 miles away, there is a commencement ceremony taking place. The students are probably sitting on folding chairs, and listening to a speaker that is unaware of the fact that no one is listening to him or her. It’s probably hot and stuffy in the gym, with everyone shifting uncomfortably in their graduation gowns. Their minds have probably drifted off thinking about how they are going to celebrate tonight, or what’s waiting for them outside of this small town. Family members are straining their necks in the bleachers to find their graduate, who has gotten lost in the sea of navy. It’s just rows of heads hidden under caps, and they are turning to trade glances with friends or some heads keep dropping as they fail the battle of trying to stay awake.
People are waiting for names to be called, waiting for awards to be distributed, waiting and praying that this speaker will soon be finished. They’ve waited four years for the moment to walk across that stage and shake someone’s hand, the same hand that will give them an empty folder to represent a diploma. It has taken hours in the library, several all nighters, and probably blood, sweat and tears to reach this moment. To be able to call themselves a college graduate. Each graduate probably has a plan, or maybe nothing concrete, just dreams and the idea of where they want to end up after they leave this place. And some of those dreams may come true, and some of them won’t. But as you’re sitting there looking at your peers it is impossible to tell who will make it and who won’t.
The bubble is about to be popped. You’re soon going to be leaving this place, and leaving people you probably care about deeply. It’s the first family that you’ve actively participated in building. It was the first place where you learned to be semi independent, to think on your own. You might have found someone to love, and you might have had your heart broken more times than you can count. There were probably parties, filled with underage drinking and noise complaints from neighbors. You must have had great successes as well as great loss.
About one year ago, about 1,160 miles away, I was sitting at a commencement ceremony. I was sitting on a folding chair next to my best friend’s boyfriend who kept taking selfies. We complained about how hot it was and how we didn’t know what the speaker was even rambling about. I kept thinking about how my apartment wasn’t packed, even though I was supposed to be leaving that afternoon. I looked down the row and saw my friends wave me over, hoping to get me in an extra seat next to them that had been overlooked. I couldn’t see where my family was sitting, and I figured they probably couldn’t see me either.
For a moment, when I arrived at the auditorium, I thought they were actually going to say, “Just kidding, you’re not allowed to graduate.” But then I was sitting in my seat and wondering how in the world did this happen so quickly. I was proud of the work I had done, but I knew there was so much left in the world to learn and experience. A professor had once told me, “If you are not overwhelmed by all that you don’t know, then you might as well hand back your diploma.” I had spent hours in the library, and nearly every week of junior year contained at least one all nighter. I had waited for this moment. To be able to call myself a college graduate, and I had ideas of who I wanted to be; I still have those ideas. I have dreams and some of them have been realized, and some of them will always remain just dreams.
Sitting in that gym I wasn’t yet comprehending how much I was going to miss that place, and all those people who had made it special. I took photos, where every single one I look as if I was going through a wind tunnel. I had lunch, and went to a graduation party, and I still felt fine. It wasn’t until a few hours later when I had to say my first goodbye that I completely lost it. My parents found me in my apartment closet sobbing and trying to pack. At the sight of me my father started laughing, “what are you crying about!?” The rest of my family shuffled in and I was mortified to have them all witness me in such a vulnerable state.
This was all a year ago, and I can’t believe what has happened since. And in another year I will probably still be shocked. But I hope that I’ll remember what it felt like to sit in that chair, and feel those exact feelings, in that exact moment.