There are moments in life that define us. Some are fleeting seconds between two choices, others are monumental flags planted at checkpoints as we ascend from children to adults. Recently, I found myself amidst one of the more ceremonious times of life. A time that was marked with fireworks, a mortarboard, and an ephemeral moment to cross a stage, shake a hand, and immortalise the second I went from student, to university graduate.
What I wasn’t aware of however, what I had missed in the fine print of my graduation letter was the clause that stated I would now be forced to mature over the three-second stroll it would take me to cross the graduation stage. I would enter stage left a carefree and wild spirited student, and would exit an adult of sensible propriety; one that would inherently know how to do her own tax return, and would spend more than $7.50 on a bottle of wine. Outrageous, I know.
But graduation was unavoidable and rushing towards me all too quickly.
For all the semesters I had spent loathing the parking conundrum and donating every Saturday night to Microsoft Word, I found myself unequivocally sad at the thought of being an alumni. I felt as if I was being forced to say goodbye to one of my closest friends. Someone who had nurtured me and inspired me to challenge and defeat any obstacle that dared to block my path. And now we were parting. I would go one way, and they would welcome a new wave of frivolous students, swiftly forgetting about the tracks I had laid over the four years of my degree. It was the tertiary circle-of-life, which sadly had not been remixed by Walt Disney.
I was now to introduce myself as Hannah and not the plucky arts student I had identified with for so long. I would admit in the pleasantries of small talk that Curtin University was my Alma Mata, and would add a whimsical quip rejoicing in how I would never have to face the 1pm struggle of parking my car again. (Even though, deep down, I had grown fond of the hide-and-seek game between me and the rogue car space that lingered free somewhere on campus.) Yet no matter my witticism, I would still face the same question that every university student lives in fear of hearing upon graduation, “so, what now?”
To me, that question was as mystified as the existence of big foot or alien life; how was I to know? I had spent the last few years living semester to semester, planning only my units and how I would spend summer vacation. ‘What to do after graduation?’ seemed a superfluous thought when facing the question of what to write for a 3,000-word essay; it was something that I had pushed to the furthest parts of my brain, where cobwebs and old math formulas lived.
But now I was reaching back, blowing off the dust and bringing it forward. What now? Was I ready to start writing the next chapter of my life, reminiscing about the wonder years of university? Or would I cling desperately to the past and remain eternally in the mind of a university student? Both options seemed equally as daunting, but a decision had to be made none-the-less. I had studied hard and injected countless hours and double shot soy flat whites into ensuring I reached this position, where I could stand with my hands upon my hips and stare triumphantly into the future.
There are seldom times in life where you are given moments of total freedom. Where you can reinvent and redesign, take a different path or pave your own, when you are able to untangle yourself from the roots that ground you in one place and soar out into the world, autonomous and magnificent.
These moments of definition can pass us all too quickly, like signs lining a highway. My advice to you, as ludicrous as it may sound, is to savour it. Savour every second that you are given in your sash and gown, and bathe in the glow of every congratulations. When your name is called out through the auditorium and you have your three seconds, reach out and embrace that moment with both hands. Clutch it so tightly that you lock it within the safety of your chest, keeping it a part of you, just as you will always be a part of it.
I had spent so much time mourning the end of my carefree years of university, fearing that this was the end of a well worn and loved story. But I was wrong, graduation was not a sorrowful goodbye; it was an elatious beginning.