The graduation ceremonies for 2016 gave me an existential crisis. I was seeing photos of all these beautiful red-and-black gowned students get their awards, and all I could think was, In a year, that’s going to be me. In a year, this is all going to be over.
You’d think that would be super exciting and that I wouldn’t be able to wait. I’ll be most of the way to 29 when I graduate; it’d be about time for me to get a career, have a family, buy a house, get a dog, and get a best selling novel out there, right?
Actually, I’m not ready, and I’d like to go back to First Year.
First of all, I don’t even know what I’m going to wear. You have to wear something specific so parts of your gown don’t slip all over the place — and I did see pictures of that, so I know it’s true. Also, I don’t know anything about hair or make-up, and that’s important because there’s so many photographs at this darn thing.
Right out the gate I’m at a complete disadvantage, and then there’s the Smile, the terrible, frightening, other-dramatic-adjectives Graduation Smile. I am being deadly serious when I say I have been told to work on mine. I spoke to a friend who graduated years ago and she said she practiced for days to get that smile right. So between the hair, make-up, clothes and Smile I am just . . . woefully under-qualified for this whole thing.
So it’s not really a secret that your cap and gown aren’t free and that even then you’re just renting the thing. It’s free for you to go, but then your guests have to pay. I know for some students, not going is completely out of the question, but for me . . . I mean, I’ve got bills to pay. I have my own place.
Which brings me to my next
panic-induced worry point: What do I do when it’s over? Not graduation, school. University. Graduation isn’t just a big ceremony where you get to pretend you’re in Harry Potter and smile a lot, it’s the end of my time as an undergraduate. It’s the first step in a new direction.
I don’t get to go home to Mum and Dad and take it easy. I don’t get to spend time adjusting from education and deciding what I want to do next. I have a flat, I have bills, I have a cat, and I can tell the Council Tax people are waiting for me to finish so they can charge me the earth. Do I go for an MA, or do I get a Big Girl Job? Do I leave Stoke, or do I stay? What if I wind up back where I started, in some dead-end job but this time, I’ll have a ton of debt and a certificate?
I guess, thinking about it though, it’s not just a certificate. It’s a degree. A degree that I earned with years of hard work, and it’s definitely going to open doors for me. Just being in university has given me experience in editing, teaching, working to industry standards, writing book reviews and articles and TV scripts, to name just a few. I could . . . kind of do whatever I liked, within reason. Before, my choices were answering phones or selling washing machines.
As well as being a chance for me to celebrate my success, it’s also a chance for my family to see what they helped me achieve. Everything leads up to that moment; that’s the direction I’m heading in. That’s going to be pretty special.
Perhaps the biggest thing I’m excited about, the one that kind of clouds over all that worry and doubt about the graduation and what it represents, is that I’m finishing a journey I started with my classmates three years ago. These people have been with me the whole time, and some of them have become really great friends of mine. We got through the course together; we should finish it together, too.
It’ll be a privilege to get on that stage with them. And then, you know, try not to take any of their eyes out when we all throw our caps up in the air afterwards.