Commencement season is underway again, and although your graduation is usually a celebratory day, it isn’t always straightforward. For some, it is a rite of passage, the natural next step after secondary school, with the experience of third-level graduation, and even Trinity itself, practically part of their genes. For others, it is the cumulative result of years of parental sacrifice, the creation of a new era, one of a collegial education, with adult children inviting their parents into the world they didn’t experience for themselves. Sometimes it is bittersweet: not graduating with your class due to circumstances you couldn’t have predicted, but happy to be graduating at all.
The day itself is a far cry from the reality of attending college: full of pomp, fanfare and the donning of cap and gown. It is also strangely vulnerable. Vulnerable, as it is the shortest reunion we’ll ever have: six months, enough time to have moved on from who we were, but not quite long enough to have made radical changes. Who has a new job, a new partner, or looks different? Do I look different?
The belated nature of a graduation calls for progress, plans, and a blueprint for the future. But a long time awaiting results provides little time to reinvent yourself. Hopefully, some of my own messy habits of being a student have been shed, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer than this to know for sure.
Its absence felt more acutely than its presence ever was, seemingly realising how comforting it is to walk through the world recognising people
It also invites vulnerability in the public conferral of our results. Clinging to tradition, Trinity ranks everyone from best to worst, publicly punishing or rewarding students for the work put in.
College was often challenging, and regularly drew new experiences, but rarely – at least, soberly – vulnerable ones. Commuting meant the luxury or burden of being standalone, meaning that, unless you allowed them, people didn’t know too much about you. Now, classmates will get to see your family, your parents, the people who mean the most. And you theirs. Conversely, maybe we all have access to people’s insecurities or familial tragedies, absentee relatives, bickering relations. Although people know you in college, they don’t necessarily know the people who got you this far.
If graduating with your class, it is a return to the College community of the last four years – with people returning from all corners of the globe, taking days off work, postponing departure plans until this day was over, all reuniting to be the undergraduate class of 2018 one last time.
It is this community that makes or breaks your time in college. Who you surround yourself with impacts your experience, for better or worse. It would be remiss, and frankly wrong, to say it was a family, given that the relationships range from your close, immediate friends, to happy acquaintances, to actual strangers who you have literally never seen before. Personally, I didn’t realise the extent of this community until it was gone. Its absence felt more acutely than its presence ever was, seemingly realising how comforting it is to walk through the world recognising people. In the time since leaving, I have been pleasantly surprised by the community feeling of merely being in the same year.
Hopefully, some of my own messy habits of being a student have been shed, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer than this to know for sure
There have been quickfire catch-ups, as well as exchanging pleasantries after unexpectedly bumping into colleagues, despite never having spoken throughout college, and some new friendships, but better late than never, after all. Not to say that it’s a tight-knit group, or that we’ll all be best friends forever, but on some level, for a certain period of time, we shared this College, and this community and the experiences that go with it, will forever belong to us, or we to it.
This is our last time here as undergrads, the transition from student, to graduand, to graduate almost complete. Surprisingly, this final event of being a Trinity undergraduate student is bittersweet – a celebration of academic achievements, coupled with a slight sadness that this chapter is now over. Commencement combines both reflection and looking forward. What did we do to get here, and where will we go from here? Only time, and the 10-year reunion will tell.