‘Tis the season. Spring- some of you may exclaim. Summer, say the lucky few. You’re all wrong though. If you work in academia, the answer is obvious- Graduation Season! The farewell hugs, the “lasts” for everything and the inevitable ceremony of graduation itself. So it commences.
What exactly is graduation? It’s a ceremony celebrating a degree conferred. Or in more poetic words: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss
At my job, I am “strongly encouraged” (which everybody understands means required) to attend commencement services as well as senior exit interviews in my department. Every year I start off very blasé and cynical about the whole affair, and every year I experience something that moves me to my core. There is a beauty to graduating and it touches me every time.
I had always taken education for granted. Both of my parents have their PHD’s, my grandparents had higher education and one of my grandmothers (a woman born in the 1920s) had a Master’s degree in literature. I grew up surrounded by all of their books, and knew that not only would I get a college degree; I would also be pursuing a terminal degree in my field. This was an obvious path and I couldn’t imagine any other way- this was what I would do.
I’m lucky enough that every graduation season I experience something that allows me to check my privilege and recognize it for what it is. This year, it was a graduating senior. In her exit interview, she told us all about her struggles to get through school, her battle with mental health and the similar issues of her sister who didn’t finish college. Her family went through a lot to send her to this institution, and as a result, she would be the first one in her family to earn a college degree. She was tearing up while talking about her journey, but she was also beaming with pride. All of us in the room felt her joy. Her growth in the past four years was astounding and her story extraordinary.
Afterwards, I attended a graduation-eve ceremony held at our college, in which faculty and graduating seniors are recognized. Each of them hold a candle, and the college’s president lights faculty candles from “the torch of knowledge”. The faculty in turn light the candles of the students, who then, in turn, light the candles of the gathered friends and family. In the flickering candlelight, with a warm glow on smiling faces, it’s easy to reflect on the past and all of its accomplishments. Time slows down, the fire twinkles, and we celebrate ourselves and each other. After another bout of congratulations, the candles are extinguished, and the ceremony peacefully commences.
After graduation, however, many of us seem to lose the pomp and circumstance. The robes, the caps, the processional are very formal, but they go a long way in marking what is a special occasion. We see similar protocol with wedding ceremonies, special attire, processional, recessional- again signifying the notable nature of the day. Aside from weddings and graduations, however, we don’t take time to celebrate ourselves and our accomplishments. We might go for a drink now and then, when we get a raise or promotion at work, but we rarely do something monumental to mark the occasion.
Therefore, I recommend a yearly “graduation ceremony”, at a time that works for you. It provides a chance to review and celebrate your accomplishments, as well as ask that very important graduation question- “Where do we go from here?”
You’ll need a few things. The first one is a fantastic commencement address. I love the one by Jim Carrey, from the 2014 MUM Graduation. In this speech, he talks about the value and courage of pursuing what you want. His father was a very funny man, but never pursued comedy, feeling he had to make “the practical choice”. Nevertheless, he got laid off his job. This made a young Jim realize, that not only can you fail at what you want, you can fail at what you don’t want. And wouldn’t you rather do the former? This speech is a game changer and was a major influence on Mr. SS and myself. I’ve also heard great things about the Steve Jobs speech, which I will be listening to this year.
You will also need an awareness of your accomplishments. What is it that you’ve done? What have you learned or mastered? It doesn’t have to be all academic. How are you better than you have been. Write some things down and pick your favorite. Have a partner or friend help. Then create your diploma, whether it’s a sticker you put on your mirror, or a desktop wallpaper to remind you how awesome you are. It may sound silly but it’s important to have a lasting reminder of this “graduation”.
Lastly, you’ll need some great tunes (yes, I know these don’t actually happen at graduation. Feel free to play the commencement march or The Star Spangled Banner). And then watch your speech, play your song of choice, and accept “the diploma” you’ve worked so hard for. Reflect on where you are now and how you have changed. Move forward into the future.
You may now flip you tassel.