To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really understand the point of my graduation at first.
I formally graduated from my undergraduate studies at the end of May, but that moment didn’t exactly feel like the end of the school year. I had written my last exam at the end of April; it had been several weeks since I’d returned my last library books, handed in my student mailbox key, packed up all my books, and moved into an apartment downtown.
By the time I came home one Friday night to the somewhat startling realization that graduation was the next day, I’d already been working for nearly a month. Going back to the university at that point seemed like an afterthought.
The day itself was a whirlwind of official regalia and camera flashes, of exchanging quick hellos with peers in the hallway and puzzling out which way the tassel on the cap was supposed to go, of trying to not trip on the hem of the gown walking across the stage. There were family members to greet, professors and mentors to thank, classmates to wish well, and endless photos to take. I tried to keep reminding myself of the gravity of the occasion, but then I’d catch a glimpse of the clock and realize with a jolt that I had to be on the other side of the school in three minutes.
There was so much to think about that there wasn’t really time to reflect.
Almost before I knew it, the ceremony was over and I was waving goodbye to my family as they headed back home. I found myself alone with a framed piece of paper and a mildly alarming question: Was that it? I found myself reeling with the rush of graduation day, of course, but I was also thinking about my whole university experience. It didn’t seem quite possible that the whole experience was officially over.
This can’t be the end, not yet—there’s still so much I need to learn!
Flash forward four weeks, and I’m at another graduation, this time for a younger sibling wrapping up four years of high school. As an observer rather than a participant, I had a little bit more internal space and quiet for this particular ceremony. I was a step removed from the day’s proceedings, an outsider looking in –and the distance was exactly what I needed to gain a little perspective.
Watching the freshly minted grads file across the stage to collect their diplomas, I couldn’t help but look back not only four weeks to my university graduation, but also four years to my graduation from the same high school. I saw the end of my university journey in light of its beginning.
And from this angle, God’s faithfulness was overwhelmingly clear.
I realized for the first time just how much He had grown me during my undergraduate studies –not only academically, but socially and spiritually as well. It was easy to trace the thread of His grace running through those tumultuous four years, carrying me through the good times and the bad.
If I were at my own high school graduation right now, I wondered during the post-ceremony reception, what would I say to my younger self? University certainly wasn’t easy and I could never have anticipated what was to come as I left high school behind.
Would I have approached my undergraduate years differently if I’d had a better idea of what they’d hold? Remembering how excited I had been to move out at my graduation four years ago and the difficult reality of the transition that followed, I tried to imagine words of encouragement or warning, some advice that would help prepare my 17-year-old self for what she was about to face.
I don’t think trying to brace her with more information would have made things any easier, though. And that’s okay: she was in good hands all along.
My graduation ceremony experience, I suppose, was in many ways a natural extension of the four years of my degree. Most of the time, my focus was on staying afloat in the day-to-day whirlwind of readings and midterms and papers; pausing to ponder the broader sweep of my life never seemed quite as important as getting through the assignment at hand.
And so the significance of what’s happening all too often gets lost in the rush.
These graduations have taught me that it’s dangerously easy to lose track of the way you’ve changed. I know that – thanks to God’s powerful goodness – I’m a far cry from who I was when I left high school for university.
But the deep transformations happened slowly, creeping over me while I wasn’t paying attention. I’m more grateful than ever for the mercy and patience of our gracious God, who opened my eyes to His work with the opportunity for a second look.
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