Verb ‘ɡradʒʊeɪt,-djʊeɪt/’ 1. successfully complete an academic degree, course of training, or (North American) high school.
But, really, what does it mean to graduate?
The Great, Big World
To graduate is really to be on your own feet and step outside the comfort zone called university. If you think university is tough, wait until you go into the real world. When I was in university, I stayed on campus. Whenever I was bored studying in my bedroom (because it’s small and crammed with things), I could just go to the nearest study room and study there for a while. Whenever I felt tired after hours of lectures or meetings, I could just curl at the corner of Student Lounge or Library and nap for a while. I could always drop by a friend’s place to chat over coffee anytime. The university was my bubble.
And the commencement is very much like a ceremony to burst that bubble I loved so dearly.
Outside the bubble is the adult world or the ‘real world’. Those who step out of the bubble are adults. Being an adult means being responsible and accountable of your decisions and actions. More importantly, being able to make your own decisions and create an impact. It is a freedom that comes with a responsibility.
I once heard someone said,” I wish I didn’t have to graduate. It’s a scary world out there. At least, right here, everyone is the same – you don’t have to compete all the time.” If you come to think of it, that is true. The most dreaded part of the university is the closest thing that simulates the real world: bell curve. In real world – I will not try to sugar-coat or soften this – like it or not, people judge and compare.
A Path You Chose Yourself
Honestly, I didn’t know what graduating feels like until I was in my final semester in university. I didn’t even bother to think of it. My realization of how big the word ‘graduation’ is was not vivid – it was gradual. I slowly thought of things I had never thought of before.
Like, what I will do after graduation. Some people might find it earlier, like a friend of mine who knew what she wanted to be after graduation ever since she was a freshman. Knowing this, she formed a path toward her end goal. She walked on it and succeeded. She got the job she dreamt of. Some people might be less fortunate. The path to their dream might not be as easy. Along the way, they might wander or got lost. The path they walked on might not be the correct one. But, for those people who knew exactly what life is after university, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel that guides them.
How about those who don’t know? I didn’t. I always pictured myself as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. My university life was much like Oz – full of colours, adventures and magic. There were monsters too. But I did not know what it had in store. I only went with the flow. I followed the yellow brick road – the path that laid there for me. Having said this, I did not know where my destination was until my final semester. When I realized, it was rather too late because some people already made their way to the destination. That is, they went for internships in related fields or joined CCAs that helped them to be the perfect candidate for their dream jobs – their destinations. I had to struggle and ran towards those ends. But, of course, there were good things in not knowing. I did not focus on my destination but I cherished and enjoyed the journey. I noticed the beautiful little things along my yellow brick road. I made valuable friendships and experienced a spectrum of things – from going for a research internship in Germany to being an intern journalist.
There is no right or wrong – some people are meant to be a well-planned dreamer while others are meant to be the carefree, happy-go-lucky ones.
In the end, you must be ready when you are reaching the end of your university life because the ‘real life’ doesn’t wait for you. As much as I hate to say this, life might not get better just because you have a degree or two. It is your decisions and actions that matter after you earn your degree. The world is getting more and more competitive. The world is a massive classroom where everyone is graded by bell curves of their luck, skill, ability and attitude.
Often, I found myself being a calculating pragmatist who spent too much time on thinking about the future once I faced the word ‘graduation’. I planned ahead and thought of the ways to get there. I thought of ways to survive that classroom called life. I slowly lost my carefree, happy-go-lucky side and became bitter. I lost that childlike state of mind which translated into a sincere smile. Instead, it was replaced with a cynical grin.
Is it bad or good? Does it matter? No, not really. In the end, just like the university life, what matters is the way of navigation that I chose and will not regret.
My only words of advice: First, start small by taking accountability of your own actions and acknowledge your mistakes. Make your decisions your own. Listening to others’ opinions are good but, in the end, only you can help yourself. Do not ever regret it because the only thing you can do is to move forward. If you are graduating soon and feel like you are not ‘there’ yet or that you are not ready to burst the bubble, prepare yourself, strive and do not complain because ranting, being sad or angry do not change a thing but your effort counts. If you feel you are not as good as others, keep in mind that if someone else with 24 hours a day can do it, you can do it. You only need to invest some time on yourself to make yourself better.