Monday, May 3, 2010

Unending Graduations

Does anyone else find graduation ceremonies mildly depressing? Not in and of themselves. Every individual element is usually quite uplifting and celebratory. But I always seem to find myself sinking into Nostalgemotional Land when I attend graduations--no matter who they're for.

I was sitting way up high in the bleachers at my brother's college graduation on Saturday, next to my husband and behind a girl who had penciled on eyebrows and a tattoo of two creepy eyeballs on the back of her neck (which were staring at me through the entire ceremony). A band of students performed a song near the beginning of the ceremony, and I found myself tearing up because...well, I don't know. The singer's voice was beautiful. The graduates looked so happy. How much I love my little brother, and how much nicer he is to me now than he used to be. My parents weren't there (they live in Africa and just didn't have the money to pay for the trip) and how sad I knew my mom was to miss her son's graduation.

All the babies and pregnant women all over the place in the gymnasium probably didn't help much, either.

I think graduations always take me back to my high school graduation and all the emotions that were swept up in that. Looking around at my classmates and knowing this would be the last time we would ever be all together in the same building. That I wouldn't see most of them ever again. Feeling that something really big and monumental was over in my life. Anticipating living away from home for the first time. Feeling so proud of my class (proud of what? I don't know. Just for being my class, I guess). Being so happy to be finished with high school, and ready to leave home and fend for myself.

It's the same feeling I had when I was eleven years old and boarding a ship with my family to start our journey from Tagbilaran, Bohol to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Seeing the tears on my parents' faces as they hugged so many people that they had sacrificed so much to love and help.

I had a few twinges of this feeling at my wedding, though I was mostly preoccupied with giddy excitement and joy. But some part of me was aware that from then on, my relationship with my family would be solely in the form of brief visits and phone calls. No more living in their house as their child.

The same feeling I had last summer as I said goodbye to my parents a few weeks before they headed off to the next big thing in their lives (Africa).

It feels reductive to simply call these moments bittersweet goodbyes. Yes, they have been the big transitions in my life. But I think what has filled them with such richness and depth is that they have all taken place in the context of great love. The beauty of that love is what frees me to be able to feel nostalgic for my past without any sense of profound loss or sadness. Knowing that what's coming next is good and right--that it's supposed to be what's coming next. And confident that what was beautiful about the past isn't over--it continues and will continue through eternity. What was painful and hard, however, is over and will not return.

But that doesn't stop me from getting teary-eyed at graduations. I've got another one coming up in a couple of weeks--my own. Pete has convinced me to walk in my graduation, even though I completed my MA last December and feel very little connection to the university from which I received it. But he insists that I need closure of some sort, and that I'll regret not doing it if I don't. Which is probably true. If I cry at that one, though, it will probably be from boredom as they call every single one of the 4,000ish graduates in attendance. I'll definitely be bringing a book (hidden under my gown, of course) to help me make it through that one....


Alex said...

I think it's great that you will be walking for your graduation - you deserve the celebration!

I know what you mean about events that take you from one part of your life to the next. They're always so hard, but happy too... Great post explaining your thoughts!

Adele said...

You're right - all the events you describe are huge transitions taking place in the middle of love. And endings - even if they're good ones like graduations - are somehow never easy.

Out of curiosity, have you ever read Old Filth (by Jane Gardam)? It's a lovely book and it might be of interest to you given your childhood in SE Asia. So much of the book is about the way that this experience defined the main character, for life. It's a different era, and different circumstances but you might find it interesting.

And I also think it's good that you're going to do your graduation. Those events are important (though, yeah, my university does something similar...take a book:)

Leslie said...

Aren't eyeballs on the back a russian prison tattoo given forcefully to people designated as rape victims? Sheesh. Research your tattoos, people!

But yes, I love these moments of nostalgia and pride and wistfulness that these kinds of ceremonies bring! I'm glad you got to experience it, and I'm really sorry that your parents didn't.

Also-- did you ovulate while you were there??

Ceejay said...

Leslie - Thanks for asking! Nope, no ovulation yet. But I'm feeling more peaceful in the waiting these days. There's nothing I can do to control it, right? And there's not much point in analyzing my signs when they're as confused as they seem to be right now. So I'm just waiting it out a bit and will see what happens next. I'm pretty sure something's happening, though.

Laury Ann said...

I have my brothers college graduation this Saturday....they always get me teary-eyes too...taking me back to the HS days, new beginnings, bitter-sweet endings. Oye.

Julize said...

Graduations make me cry too, for all the reasons you listed. You should definitely go to yours. I skipped my grad school graduation and I've always kind of regretted it. If nothing else, it's a nice way to symbolically honor all the hard work that went into getting there. Congratulations!

Hannah said...

Yes that's great that you're walking! I didn't walk for my M.A. and I wished I had. It does provide you with that symbolic moment to look back on.

What sweet memories you shared about graduations and growing up. What type of work are your parents doing in Africa? Hope they're doing well!