I really didn’t want this month’s piece to be a continuation of last month’s. I really wanted to write about something else. I wanted to write about Adventure Time, which I finally finished on Wednesday night, but I finished it only fourteen hours before this piece was due, and that would be a disservice to a show that deserves a great deal of thoughtful engagement. I really wanted to write about anything else because, of all the things I was waiting for and hoping would change a month ago, none of them has. I really wanted to write about some of the (not so) new music I’ve been listening to or anything else, but any of that would have felt dishonest given the way things have still been and the way I’ve still been feeling.
Really the only thing that has changed since last month is that Taylor has graduated from Calvin. Really, that feels like the only thing that has changed since I graduated from Calvin two years ago. I avow that we did also get married, which is an objectively big change, but we had already been spending all of our time together for two years before that, and that day was such a blur anyway, and our life together since has felt unnoticeably natural, so I’m not really counting that as a big change. Oh, and our arugula is doing very well.
And because little has changed to mark the passage of time, my graduation really doesn’t feel that long ago. And aside from the pride I felt in seeing my partner graduate, and aside from the fact that I was not boiling inside a black robe, her graduation didn’t feel that different from mine. In either case, I sat facing a crowd of scholars mostly around my age, many of whom I felt were probably happier and had a greater sense of purpose than I and would go on to do and be greater things. But also this time, aside from the pride and the not boiling, the words of at least attempted inspiration and encouragement were not addressed to me because, this time, I was in the bleachers.
At the same time, I felt like a student again, and I felt very old. Still naive, still inexperienced, still unsure, but not young enough to feel like it is perfectly understandable to be such. I think it is realistic to think that many of the class of 2019 will find themselves in similar circumstances to mine because, so I hear and repeat to myself, “that’s kind of the way it is these days.” I think it is realistic that many of these students, too, may not achieve what they are hoping for a while and that many of these students, too, do not even know what they want to achieve or feel like they should be achieving, but commencement ceremonies do have a way of making students look exceptional. I like to imagine that even people who did not know me at my graduation looked at me and thought I was exceptional.
It’s not that I don’t recognize that, in some ways, I am exceptional too, but I think it is an unintentional but inevitable consequence of marking graduation with a ceremony and branding it as a new beginning by calling it commencement that students who do not very promptly begin life anew are going to feel as if they have failed. And of course that’s absurd, and although commencement speakers remind you that life after college will not be easy, they are ultimately peddling optimism. And I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be, but how are we supposed to know better than to be disappointed when it’s not all how we hoped it would be? We’re just kids.
I remembered, sitting in the Van Noord Arena, because I had forgotten, that I was at one time all but counting on going to grad school. And I know that many people don’t pursue higher ed or even finish their bachelor’s degree until their thirties or forties or later. Though comforting in some ways, that’s a long way away, especially if you don’t have much of a sense of purpose until then. That’s a long time in the “real world” for someone who thrived much more in an academic one. And I think this is being a twenty-something, and I think there are professors I had who still believe in me, maybe even a great deal, and I think, even if I haven’t internalized it, that there are probably better things ahead of me, but I wished I too had been sitting boiling inside a black robe. I miss the optimism coming at me from one hundred faculty and thousands of loved ones, or at least coming in my general direction.
Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.