How To: Graduate
Dedicated to the memory of my great-aunt Tillie Gross, a force to be reckoned with and as sharp-minded as they come.
I am graduating a year early from the University of Michigan, receiving a B.A. in international studies with a concentration in international security, norms and cooperation, as well as minors in history of art and oceanography.
Yeah, thank you, I would love my gold star now please.
The reason I’m starting off with that is for my own benefit, really. A lot of what this column has been is me trying to relate to you, the reader, like I’m Amy Poehler’s character in “Mean Girls” — the mom who wears a pink Juicy track suit and is delightfully desperate to be cool. What I’m aiming to do in this column, though, is to embody the confidence of Lady Gaga in her meat dress while coming off as intelligent as Rachel Carson and Marie Curie to explain why I am OK(ish) about graduating and low-key not freaking out anymore.
That’s right, you’re about to come on a journey of soul-searching with me.
Three years ago, I was a senior in high school studying for six AP exams and preparing for my final research presentation — I had conducted a three-year-long research project on ocean acidification in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to relative national success. I was caught up in the stress of unimportant grade school drama and slightly disappointed I had committed to the University after being rejected from my top-choice-since-forever school, Yale University.
I was a smart kid (4.1 GPA), from a great family — my sister is my best friend — and participated in so many after-school activities I now actually slightly gag wondering how I did it — rowing team, honor societies, piano and French horn lessons, Hebrew school, fall play, spring musical, community service (my role model in life is my high-school self). For the first time in my life, after reading my Yale rejection letter, I had been told what I did was not good enough for something I thought I deserved. I had to confront the reality that I might not be special.
Yes, I know, what a sob story. White-and-Jewish-girl-from-New-York-is-not-as-cool-as-she-thought-she-was. I completely get that, but, at the same time, bite me.
So I had committed to the University, and I told myself I was happy. I was, to some degree. But it wasn’t Yale. It wasn’t Ivy. (Looking back, though, who cares?) There was no pivotal moment when I decided I had made the right decision and that the universe obviously wanted me to go to the University over Yale. But, looking back, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.
A lot of what I have been word-vomiting across The Statement’s pages this year is directly related to insecurity. Insecurity that maybe I won’t achieve what I want, and insecurity that I might not be successful and end up leading an “average” life. And insecurity if I am making the right decisions and doing the right things to get me going in the right direction to land me in the right place.
Here’s what the University taught me: Insecurity is as common as having a nose and two eyes on your face. For the most part, people are putting their best foot forward in a society that tries to hide that one foot behind.
(Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, I learned a lot of other things too. For example, I learned how to write a 15-page essay the night before it’s due and get an A.)
I’m graduating a year early, which is thrusting me into the “real world” a full 365 days earlier than I had planned. A lot of this year was me slowly doubting myself over and over about every choice I’ve made. Why couldn’t I have done this essay better? What if I had done Michigan in Washington? Do I really need to graduate early? Do I even want to go to law school? I should have spent more time on this job application, why didn’t I? Etc.
It was crushing me, suffocating me, thinking that I have let go of opportunities and that I’m doing something wrong. My frenzy manifested itself in self-debilitating humorous articles and retreating from doing much more than homework and Netflix and student organization meetings.
I’m not sure why, but I suddenly stopped around the beginning of April with the “what-ifs” and the “if-thens.” Instead, I started with the, “well-nows.” Well, now I’m headed to the University of Edinburgh to get a one-year Master's Degree in marine systems and policies. Well, now I’m studying for the LSAT and praying to Yeezy that I do OK. Well, now I am just taking things in stride.
Because, I let go of this need to plan.
Starting with my Yale rejection — and, arguably, starting with my first Google search for colleges — it was all about planning and doing and seeing enough to get me to the “next step” on my way to my “next goal.” There was always a well-thought-out plan between high school and college — see my very first Statement column about this. Once I let go of my insecurity with the lack of plan between college and post-graduation, the air has become easier to breathe.
I’m not special. That’s the biggest lesson I learned here, surrounded by the brightest and most passionate people I know. I’m not going to necessarily enact worldwide change, but I can enact one change in one person with a smile. I’m not the best, because there’s no true definition for what the “best” is. I’m not the smartest, because there are different types of intelligence.
I am OK with graduating, though. And that’s because I am comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am OK with graduating, because graduation doesn’t mean letting go of what you know. Graduation just means heading forward into an unknown future filled with whatever opportunities and possibilities you make for yourself.
Congratulations to the class of 2017, we got this. Also, send me a text if you have an idea about how to decorate my graduation cap! OK, thanks!
How to: Pay attention during the graduation ceremony
1. OK, you finally get to your seat, now fidget for 500,000 seconds
2. OK, you’re settled
3. Great, aren’t you soooooooooo excited to be here
4. Shake it off, it’s too early to start being sarcastic
5. Stay alert, you never know what will fall from the sky in the Big House (TBT to the parachuting man who landed on the field in a pre-show for a football game!)
6. Pick at the scab on your ankle, first bug bites of the season are great
7. Oh my lord, who even is talking right now?
8. The back of yo head is ridikulus, girl two rows in front of me with the shiny blond hair
9. What even happened to MadTV anyway?
10. Let’s get some shoes
11. Ugh, my parents are WAVING AT ME. like, seriously can you GET SOME CHILL?
12. Ooops, forgot to clap
13. OK, I’ll start clapping now
14. ABORT, ABORT; EVERYONE STOPPED CLAPPING
15. Oh, something’s happening
16. Ugh are my pit stains showing?
17. I’ll just wear my robe in the photos later, I’ll be “collegiate”
18. This tassel is in my face, GTFO, tassel, no one needs you here
19. Andddddddddd I’m bored
20. I think this is it!
23. All I can think about is food
24. Was that even English?
25. Oh … cool … guess I’m officially an alum
26. Man, I’m hungry
27. Go Blue!