This graduation season, I offer a hearty “Congratulations!” to all the grads, and I caution you: Take it all in. Accept the accolades and bask in the celebrations. You did the work, and you deserve the reward!
Recently, I took some time to think through several ways we can view what it means to graduate.
While it’s rare that what’s visible indicates a particular level or proficiency, graduation is a time where ability and level are reflected by what’s on the outside. For example, some don a hood in addition to their cap and colorful tassel. Still, once the ceremony is over, all are expected to perform tasks utilizing methods learned in pursuit of the diploma. The ‘piece of paper’ may get you in the door, but only specific skills will keep you there.
Even though I didn’t participate in my college ceremony — something I would love to go back and rectify — my objective is to display characteristics I developed in pursuit of that degree. To this day, when circumstances suggest I don’t have the tools to produce what’s in my heart, I go back in my mind. I recall the legacy of my educational institution and remember: “I’m an Obie!” (the nickname for students and alumni of Oberlin College). We were encouraged to think critically and strategically, as well as express our creativity freely. On top of that, I’m a believer who is graced and empowered to achieve greatness!
So, post-graduation, the day may come when you need “receipts” to encourage yourself. Take note that no matter the words on the paper, the tools you possess are most valuable: tenacity, perseverance, critical out-of-the-box thinking, and other people as resources. These tools are fantastic, and as you mature, you’ll learn to use them more efficiently. Our mothers were right. Experience is a great teacher!
Here’s another way to look at it. Recently I found a secondary definition for the verb graduate: to change gradually. That suggests that we can reach a level where we aren’t changing anymore once the environment doesn’t have another level to challenge our progress. When that happens, we graduate! Don’t you love that?
I realize I’m stretching the definition some, but wouldn’t you agree that the ceremony comes after you’ve demonstrated that you can pass all the tests of that arena? When I went to high school, I was twelve. Over the next four years, I changed gradually. (Some would argue that it was very slowly!) My academics were ahead of my time, but my overall behaviors demonstrated that I was immature and not ready to move on from the current space. I needed various experiences to help develop my ability to think clearly and independent of emotions and influences, as well as evaluate right from wrong to help make better decisions. That work wasn’t complete when I went to college, but by graduation, I’d made all the progress I could for that environment.
Part of being whole is to be balanced enough to thrive in a variety of situations. As we celebrate the season of tossed caps, and gowns that fly like a superhero cape, let’s focus on the growth that permitted us to pass the tests that no paper can prove. No certificate can say more about you than a purpose-filled life with healthy, balanced relationships. Well, the certification may exist, but I bet your family and friends would prefer that you walk it out than to only have a diploma that says you can!