It’s funny how quickly time passes us by. Some colleges have already held their graduation ceremonies and many more will pass out each earned academic gown and walk their students across that ceremonial stage this weekend. By the end of the month just about every center for higher learning will have gently pushed their graduating class of 2012 into the “real world.”
In just a couple of weeks high schools will begin to host their graduations as well, and younger students around the country will come face to face with their chosen answer to that daunting question of “What to do next?” For countless students, this May and June represent a daunting, unforgettable, and unparalleled moment in their life.
And yet… while it’s clear graduation season is important, knowing how to handle graduation season is anything but obvious.
It’s easy to react cynically to graduation season. It’s easy to think the little rituals surrounding graduation (the shifting of the graduation tassel from one side of the cap to the other or the endless stressing over stumbling upon the perfect graduation gift ideas) make up the sum total of what this season is all about. It’s easy to believe graduation season is about nothing more than performing one ritual after another, living up to each cliché moment in turn, going through motions that can ring far more hollow than you imagined they would.
In other words, it’s easy to approach graduation season with cynicism.
Conversely, it’s just as easy to fixate on brainstorming graduation party ideas, to obsess endlessly over details such as graduation cap decoration, and to cling tenaciously to the memories of what you believe you’re leaving behind.
In other words, it’s also easy to approach graduation season sentimentally.
But just because something is “easy” doesn’t mean it’s “right,” an important note you need to keep in mind as you prepare to tackle the next suite of challenges heading your way. Neither doe-eyed sentiment nor shallow cynicism represents the best way to move through graduation season- or your future life for that matter.
Instead, you need to combine the positive elements of these two mindsets. You need to participate deeply in your graduation season without losing sight of the broader perspective. You need to go ahead and gather your graduation party supplies without falling into the ridiculous concern that anything less than the “perfect” set of cups represents your last chance at doing right by the friends you’re leaving behind. You need to go ahead and laugh at some of the pomp and circumstance of the graduation ceremony without forgetting that, beneath all the rituals, these ceremonies really do speak to something deep and powerful and important.
Decorating graduation caps may seem a little silly and frivolous but doing so draws you deeper into the recognition of your achievements. Your academic cap and gown may be nothing more than flimsy, unattractive garments you mercifully wear just the once, but without them you will never demonstrate how closely you belong to the little community you’ve traveled with these last few years.
So… how should you handle your graduation season?
Seriously, but not too seriously.
With a broad perspective that can still zero in on tender little moments.
With your beating heart, but also with your sense of humor intact.
And guess what?
The value of this difficult, seemingly contradictory, but entirely necessary approach might just extend well past May and June of 2012.