June 7, 2007
Note to new grads: it’s just the beginning!
College graduation: the distinctive rite of passage that marks a child as an adult. Adorned in ceremonious celebration and family gathering, it is an event that simultaneously acknowledges our accomplishments and introduces us to the possibilities -- and realities -- of our futures, where success is not measured in grades but in self-sufficiency.|
My first act as a graduate two years ago was choosing to skip my commencement ceremony. Reluctant to put closure on four enriching years at the University of Florida, I turned in my final paper on "Trash Cinema" and bolted to the Florida Turnpike, figuring I had at least five hours to ruminate before life began.
Two years, four cities and more jobs than can fit on a resume later, I've been thinking about graduating (and not just because the Gators have won three NCAA Championship titles since).
As proof that destiny is not without a sense of humor, I recently found myself back at my alma mater saluting my little sister at her college graduation.
Watching her walk across the stage and knowing the immense journey ahead, I felt compelled to share what I've learned with her. With two fast but full years under my belt and scrolls of solicited wisdom from my esteemed elders, I've discovered how meaningful it is to throw your cap into the air.
But strip away the hype, the elaborate weekends steeped in family ritual and celebratory dining, how many graduates take their passage seriously? Aside from announcements that serve as financial solicitations to our nearest and dearest nowadays, how can graduates show they're prepared for the next phase of life?
How does an individual prepare for the lifelong transition of becoming who they are meant to be?
In retrospect, I realize I wasn't ready to graduate -- from college, from parental support, from the carelessness of youth in which I considered myself quite skilled. My peers avoided this precipice similarly. Many blindly went from one institution to another, finishing undergrad and matriculating to graduate school. True, graduate study is an unparalleled opportunity for furthering passions or professional goals, but I found it odd, and even humorous, that so many of my peers immediately wound up in law school, yet I can't remember many of my childhood friends broadcasting dreams of becoming lawyers.
Perhaps the naked confrontation with infinite possibility is too frightening, and many feel that arming themselves with fancy degrees will better equip them for the demands of the adult world. But everyone faces reality eventually, and a degree is simply a piece of paper until a person parlays it into a satisfying life.
Despite my absence from the ceremony, graduating was a cumulative process and not a single event; a period fraught with growth, change, struggle, new experiences and, finally, commitment to a pursuit. For me, that decision necessitated a move away from home, which truly signified my entry into an adult brand of independence.
This is what I learned during my graduation:
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
Like you, I am working hard to make that true.