Just Graduated: How It Really Feels To Walk Across That Stage

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Jun. 12 2015, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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When papers get tough and stress levels rise, the only thing that sustains a struggling college student is the thought of graduation.

It’s like the silver lining to an incredibly dark cloud and for many students graduation isn’t just an event. It’s a word that runs synonymous with freedom, success and true happiness. As a senior I remember having a conversation with a first year student that expressed how envious they were that I was preparing to trade in assignment papers for the real world. At the time I remember feeling a sense of pride coupled with deep concern. Although I was excited to get my degree, was I really ready to step into adulthood? I often wondered about my pending experience but never for too long because graduation of course, was the first and most important part of my liberation.

Senior year is an interesting time. Academically, you spend most of it finishing major requirements, debating your minor and taking classes in subjects you were always interested in but never had the time to. Socially, it can be a time to “live it up”, but not too much because you’ve got to keep your public Instagram profile just as intact and marketable as your LinkedIn.

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Compared to other classes, it’s safe to say that seniors live in a completely different headspace. Although it’s expected to look toward the future I found that I lived most of my senior year in the past. Instead of enjoying “real-time”  moments,  my friends and I usually struggled to get a grasp on time. “Wait, when did we become seniors?” is the unofficial preliminary blessing before doing anything for the last time as an undergrad student.

However, nothing can stop the anticipation for it all to come to a bittersweet end on the day you get your diploma.

We all have plans for what we’re going to do, say and how we’ll feel when we cross the stage. You fantasize about it for so long that it truly becomes a magical moment. Shaking the President’s hand, moving your tassel, holding your degree, all in slow motion as a light shines down from the heavens just for you.

Well, I’m sorry to be a scratch on the record player but the day is far from what I just described. Graduation is a whirlwind. Unlike the ease of the days that preceded the event, there is no time for you although the day is very much about you.

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I don’t remember much from graduation day. There’s a lot of standing, clapping, crying, smiling and taking pictures. I remember how good it felt to hold my degree and reminisce on all the classes I thought would prohibit me from having this moment, but that’s about it. Everything else feels like a blur.

I don’t think I felt any different. It all happened so fast that I couldn’t process what was happening.  I barely said goodbye to my friends who were all being pulled for family pictures. It was weird. It wasn’t until the day after that I realized that graduation isn’t primarily for the graduate. It didn’t just herald my new found liberation, it was actually my first “grown up” way of giving back.

It may sound absurd but it’s true. Graduation is one of the first ways we learn to pay it forward. Whether we’re fulfilling a promise to ourselves, family members or friends, the act of graduating is not something you do alone, your whole family is with you.

They’re not only there to support you in the crowd, but it’s the moment you realize all those long nights of crying to them about feeling confused and stressed out were not in vain.

Graduation is not only about you, it’s a celebration of everyone who helped you get to that moment and a promise of a prosperous future for all. If you’re a rising senior this fall my biggest piece of advice would be to spend the last few weeks of your senior year sharing your gratitude. Thank everyone that has crossed your path so that when you cross the stage, (even if some aren’t present) they’ll be right there, crossing with you.

Photo credit: Mark Ramsay / Foter / CC BY

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