A few months ago, I finished my college experience curled up in a chair, wearing my graduation gown like a housecoat, staring at my laptop in disbelief. The Zoom window of my final exam meeting had just closed. Was I really done? Reaching the milestone of graduation in a pandemic is a ridiculous experience. I can’t even pretend to offer any rationalization or advice for the problems this time has created for you. I can only bring empathy for your experiences. Or, perhaps, more importantly, your missed experiences. Wow, do I know what it’s like to miss those last big moments. The last gatherings, the long-awaited traditions, saying goodbye to treasured professors and valued friends, and don’t even get me started on graduation. As a first-generation college student, I grieve for that big celebration of my years of hard work.
There’s more, though, than missing the things that had filled you with anticipatory excitement for years. There’s the addition. There’s an addition of uncertainty in this new world we have to step into. How are we supposed to make this transition in a reality that is simply defined by chaos? Post-graduation is supposed to be a time of exploration, learning, and growing. But how do we do that with the addition of distance? Of isolation? Of fear?
This is the grief and anxiety that has filled my past few months. Maybe it sounds familiar. Maybe you feel more, maybe you feel different. But I don’t want to talk about this grief and anxiety. Let me tell you, I’m over it. Don’t get me wrong, I have a degree in Psychology. I know how important proper grieving is, how crucial it is to process these big, pressing emotions. But y’all. I’m so tired.
Can we talk about “I’m sorry” fatigue? Everywhere I seem to turn, I’m being offered condolences for my situation. My doctor, my grandma, a car salesman, a couple from church, they all want to say, “I’m sorry you had to end your senior year this way.” Usually my heart swells at any attempt at empathy. It’s so important to be able to recognize the pain of other people’s experiences, to reach out and acknowledge that. Frankly, though, I’m tired of this particular pain being acknowledged.
I see a future in which we are more creative, more flexible, more empathic, more RESILIENT because of this time.
There’s a phrase I used to use in the critiques I did in my art classes when I wanted to politely say I didn’t like something. I mean, it wasn’t that adding fake hair to the sculpture was the wrong choice, it’s just that, “I wish I was seeing something else.” When people say they’re sorry about my experiences, I wish I was hearing something else.
I want to hear, “I’m excited for whatever you can do next.” I’m ready for, “How can I support you as you try to move forward?” Because friends, surprisingly enough, I have Hope. I have Hope for our future. I see a future in which we are more creative, more flexible, more empathic, more RESILIENT because of this time. I have Hope that even as our present looks different than we had ever pictured, we can still do. There is still experience to gain. We still have more to learn about ourselves. We will strive to see our world get better, balancing our grief in one hand and our Hope in another. Because a time of change, really a time of crisis, doesn’t have to mean a time of hopelessness for us.
A few weeks ago I received a flat package in the mail with DO NOT BEND stricken across the front. Inside, behind a plain sheet of cardboard, was my diploma. Despite how different, how utterly wrong the end to my senior year seemed, I still accomplished what I came to do. I did all of the work. I persevered. We persevered. And, friends, I’m excited for whatever we can do next.
Hannah Bugg graduated from Hope in 2020 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Studio Art. She currently works as a Resident Director at Hope, and can be found around campus talking to the squirrels probably with an LJ’s coffee in her hand.