Graduation felt like petering-out more than a crisp conclusion to what was—fill in your own blanks—maybe the most hedonistic, maybe the most edifying, probably the most tumultuous phase of a young life. The whole spectacle was stretched thin over too many days, a slow and tedious death.
You must shepherd your loved ones around a campus roiling with other sentimental and confused people. And as you roll deep, anytime you encounter another friend with their own crew, there lies the potential for getting locked into a confusing mesh of cross-introductions, plenty warm but all forgotten within minutes, unpleasant for anyone with even a kernel of social anxiety. All this while you stand on the cusp of leaving a lot of people and places you might love, stuck in deluge of weird ceremonial commitments, people to see and places to stand and speeches to endure, all slotted into a timetable that feels both demanding and patchy with awkward windows of downtime, and yet still not enough downtime to gather up and tie off four years’ worth of loose ends. Or even to box up your four years of physical detritus (just save the packing for later, don’t bother).
Don’t forget the potential for commencement to be physically unpleasant, either. You could be trapped under a poncho with a soggy program in hand, wanting nothing more than for your sister to grab her diploma so you can all find a roof. There were a few chunks of Ben Bernanke’s speech that I don’t remember, in a much deeper way than the way I don’t remember the rest of it—trapped in a packed chapel humming with June heat, wearing robes layered over my shirt and tie tied tight, the culprit was probably mild heat stroke. I lapsed in and out of consciousness, catching only the clipped beginnings and ends of a powerful man’s platitudes. Despite my own failures, I believe the process can be survived, if not enjoyed, so long as you set some simple priorities.
Set some reasonable bounds to the chaos; make it about people and places that matter. If you’re going to wander, bring your family to those pockets of campus that were meaningful to you, a tour which doubles as your own last chance to steep in all that nostalgia. Yes, great-uncle, this was the storied lecture hall where I aced my econometrics final, and these were the very prestigious hedges my roommate projectile-vomited straight through.
And don’t overextend yourself: hit up whoever you really need to see, and do your best to sit next to them in the rows of creaky plastic folding chairs. Introduce your family to people you care about—the intersection of family and friends can be beautiful!—and not whatever sophomore year lab partner you random-walked into. I won’t go so far as to offer banal advice like “the ones you truly matter, well, they’ll still be in your life anyway!”; one bare fact about this threshold is that people you love might be far away from you for years at a time. Take solace in the fact that we now have ways of communicating meaningfully with one another, like disappearing picture messages.
Don’t wear nice things only to have them obscured by your robes. No one will be impressed by the tie you’ve bravely donned and sweated all the way through. Relatedly, avoid heat stroke.
And on that same note: hydrate well. That should be interpreted broadly.
Try not to drift too far into the future ahead. I got caught up thinking about my decorated peers as they headed off down well-furrowed life paths while my own future seemed filled with much uncertainty. You have the rest of your life to stare down these anxieties, so this little window should be focused on enjoying the last drops of the present that’s about to be your past.