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Graduation Day

My friends and former students are graduating!  Many of you are probably graduating!

Dear Sugar made a graduation speech, and ladies and gentleman, if that woman decided to start a church I would try to go to that church.

When I graduated from college, my graduation speaker was Richard Holbrooke and he patiently explained to us that sometimes you had to start wars in order to have peace and I think that after we’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan for most of the last decade and we keep repeating our mistakes over and over again that that might be bullshit?  Like, a lie so big that people swallow it because they think “Well, no one would lie about something that big.”  To be honest, I kind of tuned him out.  There was a lot going on that day, with my family, who were proud of me, but the way that my family shows they’re proud of you is by reminding you of all the ways you should have done better.  They do this  by asking you questions like why did some of my friends have words like cum laude after their names and I did not?  These questions sort of sound like actual questions, and they stand there staring at you and waiting for you to say something, but once you try to open your mouth you realize that they are rhetorical.  Anything you could say would only sound like an excuse, and we don’t accept excuses in this family, so maybe you should go and think about what you did wrong and feel shitty for wasting the opportunities that we worked so hard to give you unlike these other kids who obviously understood the value of an education.

So yeah, there was my family, and saying goodbye to people, including a very sexy and unexpected new boyfriend, and moving out of my dorm into a sublet that we did not realize right away had a hydroponic marijuana farm in the basement, and the D.C. heat, and the day itself pretty much sucked.

I like Dear Sugar’s speech a lot better.  Because of this:

You have to do what you have to do. You can’t go to law school if you don’t have any interest in being a lawyer. You can’t take a class if taking a class feels like it’s going to kill you. Faking it never works. If you don’t believe me, read Richard Wright. Read Charlotte Brontë. Read Joy Harjo. Read William Trevor. Read the entire Western canon. Or just close your eyes and remember everything you already know. Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far, guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits. Trust that all you learned during your college years was worth learning, no matter what answer you have or do not have about what use it is. Know that all those stories and poems and plays and novels are a part of you now and that they are bigger than you and they will always be….

You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth.

But that’s all.

I have more to write about this – I could give new grads and current students lots of practical advice about jobs vs. careers and maybe I will – but this is important.  Stories are important. Love is important.  The friendships you made are important.  The time you spent figuring out sex and your own alcohol tolerance is important. The time you figured out there was no way you could do all the work you had in front of you well, so you threw yourself into the stuff that truly interested you and halfassed the rest…that’s really important.

Congratulations, graduates.

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8 comments
  1. zayquana said:

    Oh man, graduation. Totally agree with everything up there, but holy crap that day sucked. Mostly because I had attempted suicide the week before and was having panic attacks but only two people knew that, and the rest of them didn’t understand why the big party I was going to have was summarily cancelled and why I really didn’t want to talk about my future career (since it was related to the nastiness.) I started crying at one point, and could not explain why. So awkward. So I would also say “you don’t have to have a party either, especially if that will make you feel like shit.”

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m so sorry, what awful timing. And good for you for still graduating despite surrounding badness.

  2. monsterzero said:

    Based on my own experiences, I would also add that just because one’s mom recommends a course of action, it doesn’t automatically mean that one should go do the opposite thing.

    • JenniferP said:

      I bet you have a really smart mom and you are a credit to her.

  3. btothes said:

    I like this. And graduates? Even if you have to put on your headphones to ignore your family, the moving, the bigness (or smallness) of the day, take five minutes to enjoy your cake.

    • JenniferP said:

      Right, everyone is so focused on WHAT’S NEXT that you have to take a second and celebrate WHAT YOU DID.

  4. Ace said:

    I love how you say that if Dear Sugar started a church you’d *try* to go. Not always go, or be an Easter/Christmas (equivalent) churchgoer, just that you’d try. No commitments. There’s something romantic (in a thoughtful, not a lovey-dovey way) about that.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hee, me and church go way back but we haven’t really found a lasting relationship, and I’m old enough to not pretend that we will.

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