Got you graduation coming up this year? Well, I imagine you feel a certain excitement alongside your anxiety. I bet you feel like this huge weight will fall off your shoulders with the last of your classes. Sorry to say, most people don’t end up feeling this way at all. I know I didn’t. If anything, I handed in my last essay with an uncertain feeling, like I was forgetting something important.
In other words, I finished the last of my classes and felt like I didn’t really finish at all.
College always feels like a marathon, doesn’t it? We spend so much time and energy on it that when it ends, it doesn’t feel quite over. Part of this might come back to the fact that it makes up the transformative period of our lives. We move from adolescence to adulthood within our college years. So in a way, our classes and the people we meet through our lectures and clubs become a fixed part of our identities even after we leave. They helped turn us into different people, and because of that, we feel more of a difficulty letting go when the time comes. In fact, I might owe my inability to process my graduation to that fact alone.
When my last semester came, I didn’t worry or think so much about the concept of finishing college. I didn’t sit around and imagine what my graduation party would look like or what came next. I found myself, instead, swept up in the technicalities. Essay deadlines, study schedules, and actually making sure that I completed all of my required classes. People mentioned the graduation ceremony in passing, they mentioned buying caps and gowns and what the ceremony might look like.
As far as I remember, however, the finals of our last quarter carried the same leash as all our other finals.
Exams remained exams. We all felt more concerned with getting through them before we could even contemplate parties and ceremonies; for the most part, the focus remained on actually finishing with our souls intact. I can say that, personally, studying and applying for my degree took the very life out of me. After I handed in my last exam ever, I felt drained. I couldn’t imagine what I would eat for dinner that night, let alone process such a hitch in my day-to-day routine.
To be honest, I didn’t even attend my ceremony. I held no interest in it at all, and I think that came down to two reasons. The first: I worried far too much about acing my exams, making sure I applied for my degree and diploma and ensuring that I remained on top of all the assignments that I needed to hand in. The second: I think a part of me just couldn’t imagine finishing such a large part of my life. I think we all leave high school with more of a finality than leaving college. Think about it. Leaving high school means leaving our teenage years. Off to independence and truly discovering our identities for the first time.
College, however, doesn’t work that way.
We start adulthood with college, but we don’t leave it with our last classes and essays. I don’t think closure or endings exist with college like they do with high school. Instead, college feels more like a starting point from which we (hopefully) move forward and never stop learning. So no, I couldn’t process graduating college. Not only because my classes ended with no fanfare, no parties and no epic ceremonies to see me off, but because college always felt like more than just lectures and seminars.
Of course now, I look back on that time and I can’t help but feel some remorse. I certainly couldn’t be the only student that worried about graduating, and yet others attended the graduation ceremony. Others enjoyed celebrating with their friends or family. I, on the other hand, just wanted to finish. Looking back, I feel like I wasted my college experience because even until the very end, I looked at it as nothing but a series of classes.
So I guess what I want to say here comes down to this.
You might feel the same way after you hand in that last essay or exam, like you can’t process actually being done. However, push past it, at least long enough to celebrate. Go to your graduation ceremony no matter how tired you are from studying so hard for so long. Plan an outing with your friends to say goodbye. Schedule time to reward yourself for your efforts. Maybe processing graduation for you ends up feeling as difficult as it did for me, but if I learned anything, it’s that college, if only for the amount of time and energy we spent there, signifies a phase of our lives. It deserves a proper farewell.