I cannot overstate the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m ready to graduate.
On paper, it’s all there.
I have taken all the required hours, I have passed all the right classes, I have ordered my cap and gown.
Once I’ve turned in all my final projects on Tuesday, I’ll be home free until graduation.
Except I’m still not ready.
I’m not ready to stop having the mental solace of being surrounded by thousands of other twenty-somethings who are equally accepting of sleeping and crying in the library. I’m not ready to stop pretending I’m a freshman when visitors ask me for directions on Carolina’s campus. I’m not ready to stop filing as a student on my taxes.
Let’s be honest, I’m not ready to start filing my taxes regardless.
I am also not ready to let go of the identity that comes from being a student. I’ve never not been a student. What other identity do I have?
There is no way I could accurately describe the sheer terror I feel as I stare into the black hole of what appears to be my future after May 8. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready.
I am smart enough to know that I cannot articulate this feeling any better than those who’ve come before me. Maybe I should make this a post of inspirational lyrics from Prince songs that could apply to graduating seniors. Maybe I should list advice from my parents and famous graduation speeches. Maybe I should share a series of anecdotes that illustrate the trials and triumphs of being a Carolina student.
I could do any of those things, but instead I’m going to quote Amy Poehler from her book Yes Please!, because I think she’s a kick-ass human with valuable ideas and incomparable delivery. And also because I have seen the entire series of Parks and Recreation so many times that I feel I know her personally and I like to think she said this to me, and only me, as a friend and life-long companion:
“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that- that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special and if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself.”
Carolina has become my comfort zone. Leaving feels comparable to a death sentence, though I know that’s just my genetic pre-disposal to melodrama.
There exists a very intangible kind of togetherness in this zip code, on every college campus. A sense of belonging to this campus, with one another, to one another, for one another. This accountability, this encouragement, this comfort that we find in each other comes from the webs we create through dance clubs, honor societies, campus ministries, sports teams, a cappella groups. It is the knowledge that we are all on the same team.
Over the course of the next few months, our lives will look very different than they do right now. My friends will not climb into my bed every Sunday morning to discuss “what the hell happened last night?” We won’t live in the same house. We won’t be studying for exams. We won’t get the “ALL CLEAR” from Alert Carolina at 4 a.m.
We will no longer have these little webs of people to reach into whether we need a buddy for a McDonald’s run, or we just want to feel less alone.
I’m not ready to leave that comfort quite yet, but I don’t think we have to. Graduating is not synonymous with leaving it behind.
As the late Marina Keegan said in The Opposite of Loneliness, “the best years of our lives are not behind us, they are part of us.”
Holding tightly to my college experience is not going to make me live in the past, but harnessing the steadfast love and community and celebration of youth is going to prepare me for what lies ahead.
As I look back at what the past four years have brought me in adventure, academics and altruism, I feel as though I am about to be a real-world freshman, which brings me comfort as a status I have held many times before.
Graduating from college is just like every experience that scared me in the past. I never felt ready, but I have always been thankful that I did it anyway (and I’m always glad that my parents made me do it).
Great people do things before they are ready. They do things before they know they can do it, whether it comes from faith, or confidence, or obliviousness to the risks. They beat on, boats against the current, as Fitzgerald famously said.
Graduating is not a death sentence, it is a life sentence, and I don’t mean the kind with the orange jumpsuits. Perhaps a pantsuit, or a birthday suit, depending on your skills and career path. But a suit we have been prepared for either way, by our parents, professors and peers.
It is a life sentence of which Carolina is but a semicolon – the punctuation that bridges the gap between one wholesome, invigorating, magical experience to another.
So let’s go, let’s do it. Let’s step into life, let’s bridge the gap between what we think we can do and what we actually can do. Let’s say yes, even when we don’t want to, even when we don’t know all the risks, even when we don’t think we have the courage.
Say yes. Go now. Be great.