Graduation - A Culmination of College
Written by Dorothy Zhao
But what’s after graduation?
Graduation is a time for celebration. So why didn’t anyone tell me how scary graduating college was going to be? As a senior in her final semester, I’m really going through it. I didn’t expect to love school this much to not want to leave it. In the academic sense, perhaps I didn’t learn enough in depth to feel truly prepared. In the social sense, I’m worried that once I graduate, I’ll lose contact with people I’d very much like to keep in touch with. The inner conflict of wanting to be done with school but also wanting to stay in this sense of stability and familiarity is something I think through every so often.
I’m going to be honest, high school graduation didn’t feel like much. My high school principal mentioned “7 Years” by Luke Graham in her commencement speech. I was in the top five percent of my graduating class, so I was one of the first people to walk across the stage -- my cap slowly sliding off my new pixie cut, my feet wobbling in my white heels, and my hands shaking as I reached for my diploma. I didn’t stay too long after commencement ended for pictures or thanking my favorite teachers. It went by quickly, and my introverted self was just ready to go home. Yet, it was bittersweet. I was going to my last choice university, and I knew that, in four short years, I’d be graduating from the same place -- The Wolstein Center. What I didn’t know then was that those four years would truly go by in a blink of an eye! I met so many amazing people, had so many new experiences, and enjoyed so many moments of my college career.
I’ve learned plenty about myself from 2016 to 2020. I often think about what I will learn from 2020 on? The thought of working a nine-to-five job and existing in corporate culture isn’t my worst nightmare, but it’s not exactly something I’m looking forward to. Millennials and Gen Z individuals, including myself, are looking for something else beyond the traditional nine-to-five route as well. Commuting is a time-wasting hassle, and working from home has become more and more possible with evolving technology. Remote jobs or flexible work hours are far more attractive to me and my peers.
It’s genuinely stressful, thinking of being an out-of-college adult and knowing I’ll have to handle my responsibilities on a scale like never before. Of course, I’ll admit I’ve been sheltered for my first twenty-two years of life so far. My first job was being a math tutor for a high school sophomore, which is hardly a challenging job position. I hadn’t started paying bills until my senior year of college. The thought that there are women out there who are my age yet already are mothers is mind boggling. But, I’m thinking too far ahead. Just graduating was an insurmountable obstacle; life after graduation is unimaginable, almost impossible.
It’s scary. Becoming a full-fledged adult is intimidating.
It’s scary. Becoming a full-fledged adult is intimidating. A song that comes to mind as relatable to the plight of growing up is from AJR’s newest album -- “Next Up Forever.” The lyrics that stand out to me focus on, well, being next up forever.
“I'm kinda scared of graduation
'Cause who am I when this is done?
I wanna be next up forever
I know I gotta grow up some time
But I don't think I'm ready yet”
With the coronavirus cancelling classes on campus for the remainder of the semester, I’m left wondering if my commencement ceremony will be live-streamed and I’ll click a button that says “Click Here to Graduate.” Sure, the university sent us an email saying it will be postponed, but the pessimist in me believes that this pandemic won’t be going away so soon. It’s been deeply frustrating fully realizing how hard I’ve worked towards this moment -- and how prepared I was to value and treasure the moment of walking across the stage -- all to be taken away by such an unprecedented event and reason. I wasn’t crying tears of happiness at my high school graduation, but I was ready to do so at my college graduation. Now, it seems my expectations have been dashed. I’m happy and grateful to have made it this far, so it’s a sobering moment to not attend a commencement celebrating my graduation.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and a recession, I knew what to expect, but I simultaneously didn’t know if I could achieve all of what’s expected and required of me as an adult in the real world. Many people in my community expect me to go into the workforce, create a family and follow in their footsteps in terms of lifestyle. The American dream of a white-picket fence, perfect lawn, suburban house, and a nuclear family of exactly 2.5 children isn’t exactly my dream. I’m left wondering if I peaked in my undergraduate years -- will the Outstanding Senior Award I got from my department this year be the last achievement I’m proud of? Or will I be able to travel the world, learn more about other cultures, and continue to grow as a person? Now that I will be receiving a diploma and graduating into the world of lay-offs and the coronavirus, it’s beyond discouraging. At the same time, however, it’s made my future rather open-ended. If the pandemic really will last 18 months, I wonder if everything will ever go back to normal. Currently, these changes are not great for anyone -- online classes are dysfunctional, people are losing their jobs, and the world seems to be ending. In a year and a half, perhaps there will be some positive changes that come from the COVID-19 disruption.
Nevermind the fact that I’m crawling to the finish line, barely making it there. I tried to live life in the present moment, but I need to focus on the future now, making it past graduation. The happy moments of this last semester didn’t last, tragically getting cut short, but I’ll treasure its memories.