Twenty-four hours ago, when my name was read aloud, I walked across a stage, reached for my high school diploma with my left hand and shook a school board member’s with my right, walked off the stage and sat back down. I am now a high school graduate—and weirdly enough, nothing about saying that sentence feels strange.
In fact, I didn’t see a single tear on anyone of my former classmates’ faces, which was unexpected, given the ways we had anticipated feeling. As freshmen and sophomores
, we couldn’t even comprehend what graduation would be like, and we thought of it as a far-off ideal that we only thought about when prompted.
As juniors, we watched our older friends get their diplomas and get out of dodge, and we mourned them, wondering how they could be so cavalier about the whole experience. As seniors, we moaned and wished to just be finished and at the same time dreaded leaving. But last night, no one was upset. Everyone had accepted it.
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The truth is, no matter what your high school experience was like, you will feel this way at graduation. Whether you had a blast and are sad to leave, are thrilled to finally walk out those doors for the last time, or, like me, could have made it better but could have had to deal with a lot worse, you will walk across that stage when your name is (hopefully not) mispronounced with a smile on your face.
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You will have a seat, tassel flipped to the right side of your cap, and will take a mental inventory of yourself. You will throw your cap in the air and pray to whatever deity you pray to that you don’t grab one that’s too sweaty. (A word to the wise: wear something cool underneath your gown. They get very hot very fast.)
You will be relieved and glad you didn’t trip onstage, but the thing I want you to know for sure is that you don’t change once you graduate. You don’t feel any different, and that is because you have already changed dramatically.
High school itself is a process of change. There’s no chrysalis moment when you suddenly bloom into adulthood the second that fancy-looking piece of paper is placed in your hands; graduation
is just the formalization of everything that you already secretly knew but didn’t have the confidence to admit to yourself: you are ready to face the world. The diploma is only a validation of that.
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This is why, when all the seniors leave, they aren’t upset or worried: they know for sure that they will be OK because they now know that they’ve grown up. And you know what? This is exactly the way you will feel when the time comes for you to accept your diploma and toss your cap.
Whether you're graduating or just finishing your first year in high school, how do you think you'll feel?