Last Saturday (May 8th), while I was toting my kids along on errands, I happened to drive by the Rollins campus shortly after the commencement ceremony. Among the happy faces along Park Avenue, I saw several recent graduates wearing their ceremonial garb, and I felt a sudden, but familiar, anxiety.
Before I explain why I had this feeling, I should mention that in December I decided to scrap my plan for a May 2010 graduation in order to graduate with a minor in May 2011. In the fall, I will bear the disgraceful title of fifth-year senior. This is largely due to changing schools and majors more than once. But it’s easy to make choices to delay something when you’re scared about what happens when that something happens.
Now, it’s not working that scares me. I’m actually looking forward to working fulltime and having an above-meager paycheck again. What I’m scared of is that this event, this big to-do, this thing that I’ve been working toward, this moment that I’ve put my energy and thought into, my graduation, will mean very little to anyone besides me.
There is the anxiety about inviting people to see me walk up to accept a piece of paper that represents a piece of paper that says I’ve worked hard for four or more years to get a piece of paper. And there are the feelings I may or may not have if people do or don’t show up to see me walk across a platform to accept this piece of paper.
Then there is the bleak economic outlook. Graduation means no longer marking full-time student on forms and documents, but rather being unemployed for the foreseeable future. Having steadily reduced my work hours in the past three years, graduation will bring me a lot of time to wonder if I made the right move. This sort of anxiety comes from wondering if my degree will bring me rewards greater than my own warm fuzzies. And if, when I do return to full-time employment, this paper will have the desired open-the-door-to-opportunity effect that I thought I needed when I started on this course.
In my mind, I can counter these concerns by acknowledging with pride that I will be the first in my family to earn a degree; I can think about how what I’ve learned at Rollins has helped me grow as a person; I can consider that the confidence I have in myself is the real measure of my education.
As I enjoy my last voluntary summer vacation, I anticipate another academic year full of high achievement, excitement, frustration, and anxiety. During the year, I’m sure I’ll debate with myself about the pros and cons of walking on graduation day. I’ll tell myself I need to walk because graduation will be the culmination of what I’ve worked so hard to obtain. I’ll convince myself the ceremony represents the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in my life. In the end, I’ll decide to walk only after I give myself permission to celebrate my achievement and my self.