The craziest little thing happened the other day- I graduated from university. Someone gave me a degree. I’m a graduand. Many many years in the making but that little expensive piece of paper looks damned good all framed and regal.
It wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns getting to the big day but it was a time rife with trials and lessons and experiences I’ll never forget. I was hesitant to attend the ceremony as most of those I’ve come to know as friends have either graduated or were never in the same program as me anyways. It occurred to me somewhere in the depths of my hesitation and apparent need to down-play my success, that we should always celebrate successes no matter how long it takes to land them. Perhaps the length of time it takes to get where we’re going only means the lessons of our journey have not yet come to a close. So, I attended and admittedly I felt proud.
The grads and their guests were separated upon arrival and us grads were ushered to the basement to receive our gowns. Black cloaked students milled about nervously- some talking to those they knew and some searching for a familiar face. I stood in a corner of the room steadying my nerves by reading the convocation program. I found my name easily amidst the others, each described by our program of choice. Weird. We were no longer just us, we were “Jacob Trilliam, History” or “Angelica Wells, Philosophy”. As I flipped through the book I also noticed a piece about the university’s crest which I found touched me most. The crest often appears with a quote from Virgil which translates “to learn the meaning of reality”.
Leading up to graduation I’d felt disappointed in marks, and was obsessed with the concept of a number on a page which as a university student I’d come to believe measured my worth, my intelligence, and my understanding of the world around me. I lost sight of the lessons I learned along the way that were just for me. I lost sight of who I’d become and I lost sight of the fact that I was learning far more than any class could teach me all along. My courses educated me in English and History and allowed me to appreciate the value of thinking outside of my comfort zone and adapting an out-of-the-box attitude. My life experiences taught me how to become who I am. They taught me the meaning of reality and sometimes it was beautiful and sometimes it was sad. Sometimes I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and throw a temper tantrum like those kids you see in the grocery store who have zeroed in on some treat they know their parents will never let them have. It was all labour intensive but each success, each heartbreak, each perfect moment and each defeat were the bricks and cement that has made for the foundation of greater things; the things that are to come.
I look back on it all fondly. I have lived an incredible life these last years because I have lived it to the fullest. I have been educated by reading books, meeting new people, travelling, writing, doing presentations and loving those who have experienced the journey by supporting me. Whatever the marks on the page may be (and they weren’t terrible, they were just never enough for my perfectionist attitude), I have transcended a world where that number represents the value of my worth and usefulness because I am as valuable and worthy as I work and make my mind up to be. Perhaps I’ll foray back into the world of academics in the future but I hope I remember not to focus on the value of myself as a percentage.
So, as I crossed the stage and imagined my scared 17-year-old self stepping on campus for the first time all those years ago, unsure of what would stretch before me, 23-year-old me smiled thinking of all I’d done. They “hooded” me ( It was all very Harry Potter-esque) and I stepped up to the President for my moment of fame. They told us right before entering the stage that our graduation was being podcast around the world. I stuck out my hand as Mr Alastair Summerlee congratulated my achievement and he looked at me and spoke through the applause. I couldn’t hear a single thing. I leaned in and whispered “sorry pardon?” imagining he was bestowing upon me some final words of wisdom I surely couldn’t miss. He raised his voice slightly and said “untuck your hair or else it looks as if you’re being strangled”. Not really the wisdom I was looking for but the man did save me the embarrassment of a picture and a podcast with bad hair, and I assure you his words then, and also the ones he delivered in a speech which encouraged us to make differences big or small because they all count, are ones I won’t soon forget.