Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Graduate

I was ready to graduate.  

I did the work.  I put in the time.  I studied and fretted and lived under the avalanche of guilt of never doing enough for anyone.  I cheered for my teammates and rallied the troops.  I engaged professors and asked a million questions and lived a life of heavily perforated boundaries.  

I even began making lists of things I'd do after I graduated!  I'll write more...learn my camera...tackle some of those house projects.  I'll exercise and cook more and do more things with the Monkey.  I'll renew friendships put on hold.  I'll stop hiding behind the "oh, I'm in grad school" excuse.

I was ready to graduate.

I made the trip to Monterey.  I made plans to visit with a memorable professor or two.  I made plans to see my classmates.  I made it to graduation rehearsal and I made it through the post-rehearsal reception....far too much of which put a focus on me.  As proud as I was of my achievements, I'm never comfortable being the center of attention...and there was no escaping the poster-sized version of my head in the center of the room:

Awesome.  My research partner and I are the center of attention and I look like a crazy lady.

Maybe I'm not ready for graduation.

And then it was suddenly graduation day and I was pretty sure I wasn't ready at all.  My stomach threatened revolt.   My clothes were all insufficient and weird.  My stockings looked wrong.  I suddenly couldn't bring myself to do basic things like make coffee or eat.  Being there without a dedicated support system suddenly seemed like a terrible idea.  Why hadn't I planned to have someone to talk to that morning?!  Why hadn't I designated someone to be in charge of me?  I'd gotten through grad school largely "on my own"...but graduating on my own was much, much more difficult than I expected.

Two years of work and all that was left was to walk across a stage.  And I wasn't ready.

The ceremony was brief...but the name-calling took forever.  I was seated approximately 315 out of 320 graduates....way up high in the last row of the auditorium.  My classmates and I sat impatiently...marveling at the number of international students and the general restraint of the audience as they held their applause and cheers.  An hour or so later, we finally made our way to the front for our turn.  The moment had arrived, at last, and everything settled as I stepped up to the line as my name was called.

I'm totally ready to graduate.

I was, however, utterly unprepared for what would happen next.  About the time I'd begun making my way back up the long aisle to my seat, the announcer called "And last, but certainly not least, Scott W..."  The last name.  The last graduate in the class.  That was all of us.

I was still in the aisle when it happened.  No sooner had the last syllable been spoken, but the audience erupted....exploded into thunderous applause and cheering and joy so large and so loud it was not unlike being suddenly overtaken by a tidal wave.  I couldn't breathe.  I couldn't feel my feet as I climbed the stairs back to my seat.  And from that vantage point in the topmost row, I saw the most amazing spontaneous display of honor I've ever experienced:  Every single person in those side sections stood up, and without planning or provocation, turned inward toward the middle, and presented a standing ovation.

I don't know if that's a normal audience response or not.  I only know that I couldn't sit down.  I nearly hyperventilated from the effort it took to not collapse into tears...and it took until today for me to be able to get through telling the story without getting overly emotional.  

I'm still sorting out why it hit me so hard.  I think maybe in that moment, I finally felt the full weight of it all...the tremendous import of this thing I'd done...the sacrifice...the struggle...the achievement...the things I lost along the way...and the things I gained.  In that moment, I was ambushed by every single emotion I've been way too busy to properly acknowledge over the last two years.  Until just then, I had no idea how much I was holding back.

Truthfully, I've felt a little untethered ever since...floating a little more freely than is comfortable in my well-ordered world.  Graduation feels like a bit of a paradox this time around:  the closing of one chapter and the prologue to a lot more unwritten ones.  I'm staring at blank pages and wondering how to write the first line in the next part of my story.  I haven't really figured it out yet, but I'm trying to be a little patient with that.

I just graduated, after all.

1 comment:

TondaM said...
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