Caroline McNally
June 08, 2017 2:24 pm
Ashlen Woodard / EyeEm / Getty Images

The last week of school didn’t feel different. Maybe I didn’t stop and breathe because I was too busy packing, painting the wall in my rented bedroom back to white, and finishing my final thesis. Even saying goodbye to my friends didn’t feel final. I drove away from the house I’d lived in for three years only feeling slightly sentimental. Mostly, I was just exhausted.

I’d been building graduation up in my head, based on various movies I’d seen.

I remembered how high school graduation felt, and I imagined it would be similar. It was and it wasn’t at the same time.

My college graduation was on a ridiculously hot Sunday morning at 8 a.m. I sat with my friends on the football field, listening to commencement speakers and sweating profusely. The black cap and gown didn’t help. A few weeks before, I decorated my cap to read, “Turn and face the strange” with a David Bowie-style lightning bolt. Out of all the many ideas I had, the quote felt appropriate.

We were led behind the stage when it was time for the English department to graduate. We took a photo with the school mascot, went up the ramp, confirmed our name pronunciation, received a fake diploma, took photos with the Dean of our department, then the President of the university, were ushered down to take another photo, were handed a swag bag and sent back to our seats.

It all rushed by in what felt like five seconds.

Everything was timed, quick, efficient. I saw my academic advisor backstage, and we shared a giant hug. She fixed my tassel and cap while telling me how proud she was, then I was rushed to the next spot.

By the time it was all over, I was sweaty, tired, and thankful to take off the gown.

The rest of the day flew by just as fast as the ceremony, and suddenly, it was Tuesday and I was packing up my car to drive home. I lived in a house with five other girls for three years — and it was over. It was like leaving my family. But again, I was tired – running on whatever adrenaline I had left over from finals week. I just wanted to get everything over with so I could rest.

My goodbyes didn’t feel like the end of anything.

That was similar to high school — I knew that the important people who were supposed to stay in my life would stay. Those who weren’t would fade away. The town, while cute, wasn’t somewhere I’d want to live any longer, and I knew I could go back any time. I didn’t feel a sense of panic, as though I’d never see those people or this place again.

Somehow, in the craziness of senior year, I’d made peace with college ending.

The finality felt familiar to high school graduation, but with one major difference. In high school, I was restless for my new adventure. There was certainty; I was going to college.

Now, there is no set plan.

I don’t know my next adventure yet. There are hundreds of roads ahead of me, all less traveled because they are mine, and mine alone. One could lead me to Texas, another to New York. Or I could take the most familiar one, back home, and settle down where I grew up. Re-plant myself in old soil.

For once in my life, the idea of not having a plan isn’t terrifying. It’s exhilarating.

I thought I’d emerge from a college a real, fully-fledged adult with a job. But not so much. I’m headed for the real world, but I don’t have everything figured out — and that’s okay.

At the end of my senior year of high school, my favorite teacher wrote, “College is what you make of it. Make it great,” in my yearbook. I think I followed her advice pretty well.

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