A couple weeks ago, I walked across a stage, shook hands with a bunch of people in funny outfits, and received my diploma from Tufts University.
I felt nothing during the entire ceremony. No tears, no laughs, no gushing excitement or sickening nervousness. It felt like somebody put me on autopilot for the entire thing. Then, 6 hours later, alone in my empty apartment room, I bawled my eyes out.
College graduation is an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. Now that I’m slightly removed from it, I can look back at all the different feels of the occasion—and offer tips for future grads about how to cope.
And if you graduated with me, I’m sure you’re still figuring out these emotions, as I am. Hopefully, sharing our experiences will help with that too!
Before The Ceremony
The days leading up to graduation tend to be emotion-ridden. You’ll likely have that one friend who loves to remind you that this is the last time you’ll go out together, the last meal you’ll eat in a dining hall, the last time you’ll be in the same city …
That person bludgeons you with the word “last” so much that you can’t do anything without thinking about how everything is ending. While I’m sure you love him or her, tell them to shut up. Hug after you do it, but make them stop scrapbooking every second.
Treasure your last few days at school, but don’t think about how they’re the last few days; that will take away from the enjoyment they provide. You’ve spent years planning for your future—live in this moment right now.
During the Ceremony
Reasons you may not cry or gush during your commencement ceremony:
- You will be sitting in the same chair for a very long time.
- You will be wearing a long black gown, and it might be very hot outside.
- Your commencement speaker might not say anything that resonates with you.
- The combined stress of mobilizing family members, being at the right place at the right time, and not tripping on stage might eat up all of your available emotional energy.
Reasons you may cry and/or gush during your commencement ceremony:
- You are the first person in your family to sit through one of these.
- Your family started crying first.
- You realize how much you’re going to miss this place.
- You are still wearing a long black robe, and it is still hot outside.
Feelings during commencement vary from numb to overwhelmed. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, though, remember that this is a celebration. You survived college. If you’re crying, make sure they’re tears of joy: don’t be sad on your big day.
After The Ceremony
This is what killed me. After all the pomp, the circumstance got to me. The ceremony ended, the family left, and I found myself alone in a half-empty apartment. I think I had to be by myself for reality to set in.
I realized I had come to the end of a huge chapter in my life. The path from high school to college wasn’t easy, but it was more or less laid out for me. It was what I (and every other college senior) was “supposed” to do. I didn’t question that.
From here, though, it’s all up to us. There are a million different paths to success, and we can go down any one (or five) that we choose. The sheer potential both excites and terrifies me. I’m sure it does the same to you, too.
If college taught me one thing, though, it’s to not fear the unknown. After you’ve said your goodbyes, know that you’re moving into uncharted territory. Life won’t be all sunshine and rainbows, but it will be entirely your own. That, I think, is worth smiling about.
New grads: How are you feeling post-graduation?