One year ago, almost exactly, I graduated from college. This weekend, photos of friends from the year below me started springing up on Facebook immediately after the graduation ceremony. The ceremony I didn’t attend.
For reference, you do not need to show up to your ceremony (at least for most schools) to receive your diploma. Mine came in the mail a few weeks later. I scanned it and it is now lost somewhere in the house. Oh well. There are things I am sentimental about, but no part of graduation falls on that list.
Because it’s not really normal to skip out on your graduation ceremony–especially at a small school where you know everybody in your year (and probably in most other years as well)–I spent a lot of May answering the big question: “Why aren’t you going?”
The short answer was simple: I didn’t feel like it.
Despite being “good at” school (whatever that means), I hated it, and had hated it since I was about 2 years old. I was done. Very very done. I didn’t need a graduation ceremony to tell me that, and I didn’t really want my grumpy, unsmiling face there to ruin the celebration for others.
I didn’t want to listen to ambiguous speeches about our future from leaders I didn’t respect. I didn’t want to listen and wince for several hours baking in a synthetic black tent, and I certainly didn’t want my relatives to make a giant carbon footprint for the pleasure.
Plus, I had already graduated. Not in the dictionary sense, of course, since in a literal sense the definition is focused around the degree. But anyone who has graduated from anything knows that ceremonies are not really about the piece of paper. Even in kindergarten, “graduation” is about leveling up, about some kind of invisible metamorphosis. The piece of paper is our shed chrysalis, I guess.
I forget what I was doing during the ceremony I didn’t attend. Thanks to Facebook, I do know that three of our three hens laid eggs that day, which my father considered a good omen for my graduating class (I posted a status about that). Around the same time, I got my ears pierced. I sold my saddle. I unpacked my things from school.
I have no regrets about not attending the ceremony.
I do think that milestones and markers are important, though. The old adage about the only constant in life being change has some truth to it. Further, as much as it’s important to live in then moment and look ahead to the future, it’s also important to look back.
We can become too obsessed with progress to remember where we’re coming from. A year ago, I could hardly stand to look back, I was so ashamed. Now, I’m looking back for a moment. What shakes out of my memory about that time–those four years–are mostly the good and interesting moments that did happen. This reveals a bizarre characteristic of our perception of time: so often in the moment, we focus on the negative (or at least I do), yet in retrospect we see things in a rosy light.
Lately, I have started to try applying a sort of retroactive memory effect to my experience of the present. The night after some of my younger-class friends graduated, I went to the Night of the Museums in Lyon. Walking around a crowded, lit-up museum in the middle of the night was an experience I hope I’ll never forget, but at the time I was chilly, tired, lonely. Simultaneously, I was also aware of how cool it was to be there.
I tried to hold onto the experience as it was unfolding in the same way that I will hold onto and relish the memory of that night. I had a good time. And, really, I had a good time in college, too.