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The Graduate

I graduated!! Now what?

Katelyn Phelan
MSM Class of 2011

(June, 2011) As of May 15, 2011 I have officially graduated from Mount St. Maryís University and as of this June issue I will be authoring "The Graduate" column for the next year. Jackie Quillen, the former author of this column is still with the paper but will be writing about her life as a newlywed!

My life, of late, has consisted largely of ceremonies. Between the various honor society banquets I attended before my graduation, three graduation ceremonies (my own, my brotherís, and my cousinís), two baccalaureate masses, and a funeral, all of which I attended in just the past month I am quite ready to refrain from formal celebrations and remembrances for a while.

Many people see graduations as definitive moments, as the culmination of years of hard work. They are the reason to endure the late nights, countless assignments, and the general stress that college brings. Of course graduation is the official end-point of college, where graduates get degrees and diplomas and leave the sheltered campus to go out into the world, but graduation in itself has never been my motivation. I have never thought at any point during my four years, "this will be worth it on May 15, 2011 when I walk across that stage." I never imagined myself striding across the stage in billowing black robes to gracefully receive my ticket to adulthood. The thought of my diploma was not something that kept me going.

And I guess itís a good thing I wasnít dying to experience graduation, because I donít remember much of my shining moment walking across the stage. I remember standing at the edge of the stage waiting for my name to be called, I remember stopping at the designated spots for photos, and I remember sitting down in my seat. Not much of a beautiful graduation memory. Like others, I was too worried about tripping or otherwise embarrassing myself to take a look around at the audience and enjoy the moment.

In general, the graduation ceremony itself doesnít do much for me. Instead the little things nudge me toward accepting the fact that my college days are over. I get a sense of finality not from ceremony, but from actually gathering my things to leave. Driving away from the Mount for the last time as a student was much more jarring to me than receiving my diploma. This thought is also expressed in the novel, A Separate Peace.

"From my locker I collected my things, and turned away, leaving the door ajar for the first time, forlornly open and abandoned, the locker unlocked. This was more final than the moment when the headmaster handed me my diploma" For this character, and for me, the graduation ceremony was not a definitive moment. It didnít signal that this was the end. Instead, for me, things like packing up my room, loading my things into my car (in the pouring rain, I might add), and saying good-bye to my college friends are things which brought the reality of the end of my Mount career to my attention.

This reality has not really hit home yet, though. Iíve been asked repeatedly, "so, how do you feel now that youíve graduated?" Iím not sure what these inquirers expect to hear, but I feel largely the same as before. Iíve never felt total satisfaction after a graduation ceremony or even a sense of completeness. In the case of my Mount graduation, I was considerably hotter and hungrier after the ceremony, but otherwise I felt little change.

If I had to give an honest account of my feelings after graduation, I guess Iíd say Iím feeling a little lost. Without school, Iím not totally sure how to fill my days or what goals I should have for the week or the summer. Iíve moved back home indefinitely, which is nice in some respectsóI donít have to worry about paying rentóbut the freedom I enjoyed at college has been greatly reducedónot so nice. In previous summers I could have tacked up a countdown of "days Ďtil school" but now there is nothing to count down to. Iím not going back to school.

Iím also having a bit of an identity crisis post-graduation. Iím no longer a student, but I donít really have a new specific identity. So what now? How should I classify myself? I can no longer easily deflect acquaintances or friends of my parents with talk of my college, year of school, or major. I have no school, no year, and no major. Instead, only adulthood lies before me.

Another problem with not being in school is that Iíve lost my way of measuring time. I can remember events in my life based on where I was in my schooling career. I know when I went on certain vacations, made new friends, and got new pets based on what year of school I was in at the time. I didnít associate these events with the calendar year, but according to my own life as measured by school. I remember I got my first dog in third grade, became best friends with Alex in sixth, and traveled to England in twelfth grade. But, I canít tell you the years associated with any of those things. As of this year, that convenient measuring tool has evaporated, and Iím left with attempting to make events stick to dates in order to mentally file my life.

I was given the opportunity to reflect on graduation not only on my own day, but also on my youngest brotherís graduation and my cousinís. My cousin graduated from University of Maryland, College Park and was also commissioned into the army as a second lieutenant. My brother graduated from high school. These ceremonies, and especially the speakers at them, emphasized the unlimited possibilities in the world today and the graduatesí ability to access them.

Talk of the future and the graduatesí ability to influence it created for me the illusion that life is long and filled with many opportunities. This can be true, but a different ceremony I attended reminded me to treasure each moment of life and to keep the things I care about close to me. I attended a funeral of a friendís father who died unexpectedly. This tragedy immediately after graduation offered a different message. Here I was reminded to treasure each second, tell the people you care about that you love them each day, and never take anyone or anything for granted.

Though these two eventsógraduation and a funeralóare entirely opposite of each other in every way especially in purpose and emotion, the reflection and message of both events can be synthesized into a meaningful reminder.

Life has many opportunities, but they can also serve as distractions. Follow your heart, work hard, and do what youíre passionate about, but donít forget about the people who loved and supported you. Take every opportunity available to spend with the people you love, because you never know how long youíll be lucky enough to have them. Be excited about the future, but cherish what you have. I hope to remember these lessons every day, and with them in mind I know I wonít have any regrets. To the class of 2011, congratulations and good luck!

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan