I’ve had three semi-official graduations in my life. I say semi-official because to me, a graduation isn’t a graduation without one of those hideous mortar board caps, and my first graduation, a moving-up day from the intermediate school to the high school, was cap and gown free. From my vague memories of sixth-grade graduation, I remember singing a song that had been written by former students about transitioning and growing-up, and I remember receiving a few awards and shaking hands with some adults. Overall, the experience has not proved particularly memorable.
My second graduation came six years later, as I sat in the front row of my high school graduation. At this graduation, everyone wore caps and gowns. In a display of what I consider sexism, the boys wore forest green caps and gowns, while the girls wore white. Before you freak out and decide that I’m just a crazy feminist, I would like to point out that the girl’s gowns were entirely see-through, so while the boys could wear whatever they liked under their gowns, the girls were more limited if they didn’t want to look ridiculous. My gown, however, wasn’t even my biggest problem. That dubious honor went to the cap and my giant head. I had shown up to graduation with my hair wet, and between my lack of hair clips and the humidity, my hair quickly puffed into an unmanageable halo that resisted every attempt made at keeping my cap steady. Most of the pictures from the day involve my cap half-off my head, or my head held at an awkward angle in a desperate attempt to retain some dignity.
My third graduation was from college. This time, all the gowns were the same, and my cap actually managed to stay on my head. (As an interesting and depressing side note, when I had gotten my head measured for the cap it was confirmed that I had one of the largest heads in my class of over 100 people. Talk about a boost for your esteem). I hadn’t cried at my first two graduation ceremonies, but at this ceremony I bawled from beginning to end. The commencement address is something that I will probably remember for the rest of my life, whereas what was said at my sixth-grade graduation or even my high school graduation has entirely left my memories.
I like to think that the reason I cried at my college graduation was that I had grown-up in those four years, and I realized that time is not something that you can get back. As a child, you spend so much of your time waiting to grow-up and be older and be able to drive or stay out past 10 or cross the street without holding an adult’s hand that you miss out on the simple joy of being a child. For the first time, as I walked down to the rows of chairs on that May afternoon in 2011, I realized all of these things. You can’t go back, and the future isn’t always exciting. Sometimes, the future is uncertain and terrifying, and a diploma and a bunch of flowers wasn’t enough to stop my own breakdown.
My little sister will probably have triple the amount of graduations I had. Today, she had her pre-kindergarten graduation. They played the graduation march as she and her 15 classmates trooped through the gymnasium doors and filed onto the stage. They wore tiny graduation robes, all in matching white, with tiny graduation caps with tiny tassels on their heads. As they sang their songs up on stage, I watched their tiny faces. Some of the kids were ecstatic at the attention, swaying back and forth and screeching the lyrics at the top of their lungs. Other kids, like my sister, were more subdued. But it was the kids who seemed the most uncertain that I empathized with. The pageantry of graduation is, in many ways, a celebration, but it is more the celebration of an ending than a beginning. In spite of the many promises to “see you next year in kindergarten,” the diplomas being given were for the year that had passed. My sister will never be in that place in her life again. And that is both joyful and incredibly sad. I watched my sister and her classmates walk across the stage where they shook hands with the school administrators and their teacher, and they walked alone. Nobody held their hand. The steps that they took were independent, though the shoes that they wore seemed impossibly small.
So enjoy the graduation season. There will undoubtedly be parties and festivities and there is plenty to be glad about. Just don’t look for me…I’ll be the one crying in the corner over my slice of cake.