The Graduate

Posted by JSYL on Saturday, May 09, 2009 in
Hello World Wide Web:

Apologies, I've been a bit slack with regular updates of late, but it's been a long and turbulent ride of a week for me. For one thing...

...I graduated on Monday. Even though all of us technically received our final marks around January earlier this year, now, having sat through the entire ceremony, I can only conclude that my friends and I must have watched far too many American teen movies featuring high school or college graduation scenes growing up in order to produce the giddy excitement that brought goosebumps to many a graduand's arm that Monday morning.

We patiently lined up single file to be fitted with black gowns and square tassled caps. I had a 15 minute panic attack about the fact that the rim of my hat was cutting off the circulation to my brain while simultaneously branding my forehead with the letter 'V'. Luckily, they allowed me to line up again to change sizes at the last minute - crisis averted.

In the seemingly endless waiting period that followed, I made the rounds and briefly caught up with a few people I hadn't seen since my last semester at uni. Within minutes I had had two very different conversations with two equally brilliant, articulate, over-achieving friends, both destined to do very well if not better than me.

Conversation 1:
JSYL: So what are you up to these days?
Her: Oh I'm working in Canberra (Capital city of Australia, land of the Australian Parliament and financially secure public servants). They've kind of thrown me in the deep end but I'm enjoying it.

Conversation 2:
Him: So what are you up to these days?
JSYL: Oh, you know how it is, the usual, I'm just working...
Him: Oh. [Laughs bitterly] I'm not.

People started to flock towards the doors of the Great Hall, impatient for their 2 seconds of glory, resplendent in their shiny cloaks of tertiary success. We sat in our allotted seats, fidgeting, adjusting, and fidgeting a little more. A girl on my right complained that we should really be wearing two coloured collars: one for each degree. She flicked through the program and gasped that she would be introduced without any mention of her major, or one of her honours. The mere prospect grated her like nothing else. It may well have been the biggest tragedy of her short life to date. I watched a sort of firm resolve take shape on her face as her complaints slowly subsided, and I swore I could see a ten year plan to legislate against sloppy graduation procedures forming in her head.

All around me, graduates were fervently discussing the issue of whether we were to shake hands with the Chancellor with our right hand before taking our testamurs from her with our left, or vice versa, whether we should bow as we touched our caps, or just nod once our names were announced, how long to pause for before strutting down the length of the stage, and (my personal favourite): "Do you think we have to flick our tassles from the right side to the left after we're called up?"

I turned to my friend incredulously and asked, "Where did you get that from?"
She shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "That's what they do in the movies."

It was at this point that I began to ask myself if this whole graduation thing was not a total farce. I'm sure the medieval get-up and the solemn proceedings were all designed to symbolise the gravity of the occasion and thus, the true value of the qualifications we were about to receive.

But after stifling a guffaw at the sight of an Asian man dressed as Henry VIII in the academic procession, and walking slowly across the stage, careful not to move my head an inch for fear my newly oversized hat would fall off my head without warning, and staring down at the clear plastic folder holding five years of my life in its flimsy shell, I was pretty well convinced, and somewhat disappointed at the anti-climax the day had proven itself to be.

My parents loved it, of course. I don't think they, or my kind godparents who flew from interstate to be there, stopped smiling all day. My mum took blurry pictures of me posing awkwardly with friends, and kept staring at me lovingly and hugging me at random moments in the days that followed. Later, she confessed: "It was an emotional day for me you know. My little girl's all grown up." For them, it marked the end of an era. In the words of my Dad: "Now we can be retrenched in peace."

For me, it was more of a wake up call. We were told all throughout high school that if we finished our final exams with good marks, we could get into good universities, and be ensured good jobs at the end of our hard work. This was meant to be the moment where we were to be congratulated for following the life plan, the stage our short stroll from university to the promised land of success. Yet I watched some graduate ahead of me, with better marks, and better jobs, with a little envy, wondering whether I might've tried harder, gone further by now. And I saw others with equally good marks pose for photos with no job at all, and considered myself lucky.

For five years, we'd all crammed for exams in the same library, raced to the Law faculty to hand in our assignments at the last minute, and thanked God we'd passed one awful subject or another so that we wouldn't have to repeat it in the next semester. Hundreds graduated that day. And I can honestly say I only knew and cared for a handful of them. Isn't that sad?

My life today has been made into a movie in which I'm played by Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls fame, right down to the fact that I'm utterly confused and still living with my parents post graduation, only minus the distraction of not one, but TWO love interests (greedy much, Rory?): one a hot best friend who's secretly in love with me, the other a wise and mysterious next door neighbour.

The truth is I am not where I thought I would be at this stage at all; university was certainly not the free pass I had hoped it would be. The hard work is never really 'over', academic qualifications are not equivalent to one's worth in the workforce, or in life itself, and graduation day, glorious or not, is no more, or less, an indication that things will get better, or worse. That my friends, is up to us graduates alone. And the global economy.



Related Posts with Thumbnails