The Symbolic Ramifications of Graduations
If you haven’t heard from your teacher friends in awhile, don’t worry, they’ll be coming up for air soon. Spring is a hectic time in the world of education, made even more taxing by the irrepressible raging of hormones and the pent-up hyperactivity of youth after months of teenage inertia. But despite all that, after all the dust settles, and you somehow find yourself, bloodshot and battle-weary, in a throng of uncomfortable folding chairs set out against a sea of bright green grass, ready for yet another graduation ceremony, it is also a time for a reflection. And in the midst of all that contemplation over what the past year has meant and what it will come to mean for the future of the young people lined up in front of you, you come to recognize that education, as with all life in the realm of Eastern philosophy, is more a circular than linear journey.
Our inclination, of course, especially coming from a Western perspective, is to think of it in quite the opposite terms. We tend to see education, and life really, in terms of endpoints, of destinations reached and milestones left behind us. We speak of one chapter of our life ending and another beginning, as if we could compartmentalise our existences into such discreet units of time and space. And in some ways, we are right. You will probably never see your biology teacher, Mr. Grengs, again, and if you do, it will only be in some awkward passing at the grocery store where you will try to quickly duck down a different aisle in order to avert his gaze only to have him sneak up behind you and ask you about your high school ex regardless. And that bonfire of notebooks in your front yard is probably a pretty good indication that you won’t be reviewing Ancient Civilizations or English Comp anytime soon. But as we segue into that whatever comes next, jumping headfirst into a realm of unknown possibility, the return to who we are and what we have become is often also inevitable.
I once had a former colleague who had been teaching for over four decades and was on the verge of retirement, and although his demeanour with his students was often openly hostile and combative, he obviously cared deeply, really deeply, about every student that walked through his door. He may have been the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. In any case, Tom, as we liked to call him, because his name also happened to be Tom, liked to say that graduation was both the saddest and happiest moment each year for teachers. Happy because we are done for the Summer with two full months of doing whatever the hell we want, and, more importantly, not having to deal with the petulant bullshit of adolescence. Anybody who thinks teachers don’t rejoice at the prospects of Summer break every bit as much as students have never known what it really means to be a teacher. But graduation is also a time of sadness, for it signals the end of a long, rewarding journey with the students we have come to love and care for, even when they were being douchebags.
But two months always seems longer in the beginning of June than it does at the end of July. As graduation ends, and you walk yourself back to your car parked just outside the school, it feels like you have an eternity of free time stretched out before you, a veritable sea of untapped waters just waiting to be explored. But sooner than you think those ten short weeks will end, and a new crop of young, impressionable students will be waiting at your door, ready to take that long, arduous journey with you, and they will be just as intelligent, just as open, and yes, just as annoying as their predecessors that mere months ago walked across that stage. Yes, each and every Fall, new minds will emerge, and the circle will begin anew, starting once again right where it left off.
And for those graduates, so too, will the circle of learning emerge once again, revolving around the same elliptical path, for in leaving one institution of learning, so too will they be entering unto another, be it college, the work force, or simply life itself. Yes, the ground they trod may not look quite the same, but the route they take will really be but an extension of the long journey of growth they embarked on many years ago, from the moments their footsteps first took shape and purpose.
Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate graduations or what they signal of a young person’s accomplishments. Indeed I very much recognize the merit of taking stock in one’s progress along the path, of taking a moment to look back from whence one came. But instead of seeing it as a fulfilment, as a destination reached and conquered, perhaps we would all be better served in re-tracing those steps with the vision of going forward while also circling back, of seeing this moment as a continuation of who we always have been and who we have always been destined to become.
And so I say Congratulations Class of 2023 at the same time that I welcome the class of 2024. The world is already awaiting you both.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com