Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What commencement is really about (hint: not you!)

I was talking to a friend lately and he told me he was not going to attend his commencement (i.e. graduation) ceremony. Until recently, I had no idea there were people - and many of them, at that - who don't attend their commencement ceremony.

"Why wouldn't you?" I asked him.

"Because I don't believe in going to uni to get a degree," he said. "So going on stage to receive it is against my principles."

Seriously? I wanted to ask. Are you really going to skip commencement because of this principle? While I have nothing against his belief - university IS more than just getting a degree - I think it's too staunch a conviction for which you're choosing to forgo your graduation ceremony.

It was at this point that I remembered I'd had a similar response as him towards it.

My own commencement wasn't too long ago - just last year, in fact. (I graduated one year late because of some glitch in the system. Long story. I'm over it.) But the memory wasn't as warm and fuzzy as it could have been. And it was entirely my fault.

I couldn't care less about it. I'd thought the whole thing was contrived, putting on a huge cheesy smile as I posed with my scroll. I'd thought it was no big deal, since I was just one of the few thousands that year who was donning that robe and going on stage to receive that scroll. There was no need to make a big fuss about it.

But it WAS a big deal. If not to me, then to my dad.

He had been looking forward to my commencement, preparing his outfit for that day, scoping the place days beforehand for parking spots, making space in his SD card and charging his camera battery, asking me if I was inviting any of my friends to the ceremony...

And I had let him down. I had no idea where to go and what to do on that day, and was almost late for the ceremony. All because I couldn't care less. All because I thought it was no big deal. We could have arrived earlier and taken photos, chilled, and I could have shown him around a little before the ceremony began. But we did none of that, because we arrived on the dot and I had to scurry into the hall with the rest of my cohort while donning my robe.

I would go back and do it all over again PROPERLY if I could.

I received my scroll and my dad and I posed for photos, but the moment was incomplete. Imperfect. Marred by my indifference. My dad didn't smile as proudly and joyfully as I knew he would have.

You see, commencement isn't really about you. Sure, it's an entire elaborate ceremony - robes and speeches and all - dedicated to handing out certificates to you and your peers. But it is NOT ABOUT YOU. It's about your parents. Your guardians. Your friends. Your teachers. And everyone else who had put in time and money and effort to see you through to that moment.

So even if you think attending your graduation ceremony is pointless - "no big deal" (I will never forget the look on my dad's face when he heard me say that) - don't deny the people who most deserve to see you walk through that moment the experience. Attending it - being fully involved in it - is the biggest thank you you can say to them.

[This might be a little late, but if I hadn't made it explicit enough, thank you to everyone - especially my dad - for everything you've invested in me so that I could attend my own commencement ceremony. Thanks to my dad for the late-night cramming sessions, the looooong journeys on weekends to the tuition centre, the time and money spent on my books and tuition classes and little treats whenever I felt tired along the way. It's been a fruitful 15 years.]

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