Saying “commencement” leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth.
On the one hand, it’s a promise that graduation is simply another beginning for the class of 2014; that great, golden things still glitter on our horizons, as long as we are willing to run and reach to catch up to them. On the other hand, it asserts that our lives are episodic, defined by subjective periods that would have some believe they are adults by merit of living 21 years or holding an empty canister representing a diploma in their hands. Commencement draws a distinction between a college undergraduate career and the “real” world.
I’ll be the first to admit, Tufts has sheltered us from some of the realities that await us outside of its verdant campus. We pay for this not just for the landscaping, but for the safety and the sense of community that comes from living with a few thousand other students on the same big hill for four years. We pay quite substantially (the second-highest tuition rate in Massachusetts) to surround ourselves with critical thinkers, passionate learners and the opportunities that distinguish Tufts from other institutions. However, this does not invalidate the experiences that we’ve gathered in the last four years as unreal, unimportant or finite.
The grades that you earn in your classes may not matter to you in a few years or sooner, if you confirmed a job sometime this past year and passed through finals in a coffee-scented haze. You will probably forget the name of your freshman year Spanish professor (lo siento, Professora Cant?), and there’s a good chance you will fall out of touch with those peripheral friends you sat with in The Rez when no other tables were available during open block. You will stop thinking about the person you shouldn’t have kissed, and you will forget about that paper you thought was good, but on which you only scraped a B.
You may lose some of the details, but to suggest that the end of college is essentially a beginning ignores the continuity of experience and the perpetual growth of identity. It ignores the very real achievements of students who have transcended the classroom these past four years, doing more with their limited free time than some people manage to do in their entire lives. I have friends who started organizations with global impact; friends who coded applications that thousands downloaded to their smartphones; friends who performed life-saving volunteer work throughout the world. I have friends who were arrested during protests; friends who asked essential questions of dictatorial presidents, Supreme Court justices and their own university. My classmates are already published, acknowledged, certified, critical, qualified and filled with boundless potential. They do not begin when their time at Tufts ends.
So, to my peers: Your lives began long before you turned 21 years old. Having someone decide that you are sufficiently qualified to provide some sort of service will not suddenly inspire you to really live if you’ve been waiting this long. If you have felt stuck these four years, then the idea of commencing may be reassuring to you. Run from this idea. Embrace your discomfort. The extent to which you can exhibit grace under pressure says a lot more about you than your LinkedIn updates ever will.
In the timeless words of Tyler Durden, “You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f***ing khakis.” You are an uninterrupted stream of consciousness, the culmination of what you have done and seen and wish to do. Whether you wear the badge of “student” as you do these things is irrelevant.
So forgive me if I do not want to commence from this institution. I will wear the bruises and triumphs I have accumulated throughout my years proudly, recognizing that it is not a diploma or any finite achievement that defines me or gives me value. May 18, 2014 is just one more day out of the many we will have, and have already been given. Happy graduation.
Elayne Stecher is graduating today with a degree in international relations. She can be reached at Elayne.Stecher@tufts.edu.