Good morning, good afternoon, and goodnight to the class of 2015.
Regardless of what the face of your newly gifted graduation watch might say, all of these times are present with you in your cap and gown.
It’s the day of your graduation after four or more arduous years of studying, so you’re probably hungover and tired, having used the nights leading up to today to chug beer, do shots, and play flip-cup, so I promise to make this brief.
The sun may be high in the sky or slowly making its way there as I speak, but in reality, it’s close to bedtime. This is the end of an era, and you need to feel it. After today, some will move on towards their Masters or PhD, but for most of you, this is the end. The end of poring over books in the library or on your dorm room desk. The end of muscling through 8AM classes on three hours of sleep. The end of frat parties, house parties, and impromptu drinking parties among friends just because you finished a difficult paper or lab report and need to forget. It’s the end of dining hall food you’ve grown to love to hate, the end of difficult professors you’ve hated to love because they pushed you closer to excellence, the end of simply gathering together on a weeknight to marathon TV shows and Mario Kart (if someone was smart enough to bring their N64 with them to college).
It’s the end of sharing a space with your best friends because off you’ll go, to your separate cities and paths, and the end of running into cute guys on your way from the communal shower to your room, wondering if they want to see you naked. It’s the end of swiping into dorm rooms and living in subpar apartments with five other people just so you can make rent. It’s the end of easy access to awful beer and questionable drugs, potential bedmates and boyfriends, and office hours set aside specifically for you to sit with your favorite professor, asking for advice on what comes next.
Take a moment to grieve those losses, to say tearful goodbyes to those you’ve loved over the course of the past years, to really bathe yourself in everything college has meant to you — then turn away, because it’s afternoon.
The heat of the day will press in on you from all sides as you try to negotiate a job, an internship, a place to live, a plan for your new life as an official graduate. It’s a humid afternoon, and you’ll feel the sticky build-up on your skin and soul every day until eventually the weather breaks, and an opportunity presents itself. But till then, it won’t be easy.
You’ll feel the late-day laziness combating your need to complete cover letters, the lethargy of living without a schedule, and the knowledge that every passing minute means you’re one step closer to the end of another seemingly unproductive day. You’ll hope, as the clock ticks on, that your beginners resumes will amount to a job, that your savings or the goodwill of parents will get you from where you are to where you want to be, that the relationships you’ve built over the years won’t melt away over the summer, or blow away with the fall and winter winds.
There will be a lot of wishes that blow away like breath upon puffy dandelions. There will be many hours spent wondering where you’re going, what you’re doing, if you’re even doing it right, whatever it might be. And, in the afternoon of your post-grad life, there aren’t wizened professors or career counselors helping you to improve your grade in life. Any extra credit will have to come from within, and the entire time, you’ll be fighting the inherent malaise of the afternoon, telling you that it’s okay to kick back, relax, and give yourself more time.
There is no freshman orientation for life beyond college, no syllabus for how to make it happen, and almost certainly no one but yourself to rely on to make one up from scratch.
Some of you may be lucky enough to graduate with a job offer in hand — don’t take that for granted, or assume you get to skip through the afternoon and head straight on to morning. You still have to set up house somewhere, deal with strict office schedules and bosses more demanding than any teacher. You still have to budget for groceries, and you’ll soon find out that your beer money has been newly appropriated for more ramen noodles and cereal boxes. The afternoon is hard for everyone, make no mistake.
But afterward, in this strange land where time runs backward, comes morning.
After today, you get to walk into the rosy pinks overtaking the blacks and blues of night, knowing that a new day awaits. Best of all, you get to make that day your own. In the morning, there are no more required classes — in fact, there’s nothing required of you at all. Every choice you make is your own, and whether that leads you back to your parents’ house or straight into a penthouse, you can wake up to a sunrise that promises total freedom.
Freedom to choose the career you want, the relationships you want, the apartment you want, anything you want. The path may be difficult, twisting, turning, and, almost certainly, climbing upward at a seemingly insurmountable slope, but you get to choose it, and how to walk it. You can choose who to take with you, what to leave behind, and where you want to go from here; there are no rules anymore.
Morning promises new beginnings, and while this may feel like the sun is setting upon the best years of your life, I can promise this isn’t so. Unless you choose to constantly look backward, pining for things already lived and experienced, the best day of your life can be every day, any day — you get to decide.
Once your caps are thrown into the air and the gown hung as a reminder of your accomplishments in a closet somewhere, walk into the night with the knowledge that something has certainly ended, but something new is about to begin. And, like the transition from high school to college, it comes with more freedom than you ever could have imagined.
What I want to leave with you is not congratulations, for you’ve already heard those, and will certainly hear more. I don’t want to wish you luck, because, though you may need it, in the next chapter of life, you’ll make your own. Instead, I want you to seize your diploma with the knowledge of time, the idea that although you may grieve for the day that’s ended, and dread the afternoon that will soon arrive, above all, the morning will come with all its promises, optimism, and joy. And you, new graduate, can make everything and anything of it that you want.