I never really thought about growing up until people started to tell me that I was done doing it. On my 18th birthday, everyone congratulated me on becoming an adult and told me to go out and buy a lottery ticket. But I was still in high school, living with my parents and freaking out about where I’d go to college. On my 21st birthday, everyone congratulated me for being “legal” and told me to go out and buy a drink. But I was a college student, living in a dorm and had had access to cheap alcohol since stepping on campus. On my 22nd birthday, no one said anything in particular and maybe that birthday felt the most adult of them all — the fact that another year had passed without me achieving some arbitrary milestone felt like a milestone in and of itself.
My next birthday is 23, which seems to carry little weight; it’s right in between 21 and 25. But birthdays are not the only thing that mark growing up. You might say that it’s what happens between them that counts. And between 22 and 23 there are a lot of milestones: college graduation, moving out of your parents’ house and hopefully graduate school or a job.
But I will not have a college graduation – or at least one as we’ve always imagined it. I will not be able to walk onto Old Campus on May 18th wearing a cap and gown, surrounded by my friends and classmates. Instead, maybe, I will watch a speech on Zoom and take an ironic picture with a blouse on top and pajama pants on the bottom. Hopefully, though, I will come back to campus at a later date to toss my cap in the air.
Any cliché-ridden graduation speech is likely to tell you that graduation is a beginning and not an end; we call it commencement after all. The implication there is that commencement is the beginning of real life or adult life. But speech or not, commencement or not, I will still (hopefully) receive my degree and May 18th will pass. I will be one day older.
It may sound like I care little for the ceremony that is graduation. But, like almost everyone else, I do hope that the 2020 commencement gets rescheduled. I want to be able to say an official goodbye to my friends and to take a picture in front of L-Dub with my parents. But I think that this commencement will be different for my class; it will be neither an ending nor a beginning. It will be a return.
Between receiving our degree and returning to campus, we will have lived through a global pandemic, individually and together. But – maybe more importantly – we also will probably have started our first jobs or our first years of graduate school or our super cool gap years. No one will be able to ask us “What are you doing after graduation?” because we already will have begun to do it.
Then, if our graduation speaker tells us that commencement is a beginning, not an ending, we will scoff because we will know that it is neither. And we will realize that maybe it wasn’t ever supposed to be. We will understand that maybe there is never one moment at which someone becomes an adult, but many moments of understanding, pain and happiness that will last a lifetime.
Who knows, though. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe commencement really is the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. But if this means that my class gets to delay becoming adults, I’m okay with that. We would be lucky to be able to spend the rest of our lives growing up.
LAURA MICHAEL is a senior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .