In about five hours, I am about to graduate.
Today I become The Graduate, the third in my immediate nuclear family, after Mum and Dad. Something about today has induced a lot of stress and melancholy in me, and I have been trying to understand this feeling.
I want to tell you that I feel nothing. I want to tell you that this is just a meaningless ceremony. Or I want to tell you that I am happy! Because This Is a Milestone. Because today is The Day. The Historic Moment where All the Photos are Taken.
That’s perhaps what’s gotten me so worried and melancholy, really. The pressure of history, and of the future, weigh down on me. You’ve seen all the smiling photos of people in their baggy gowns. They have Grown Up. They are Ready, with their spoons and their tweezers, to harvest the oyster that is the Real World.
Today is the day, we are supposed to proclaim, which we will look back upon. Today is the day, we are made to understand, which we will always look back with a sigh and say as a conversation filler, “ah, time flies”.
I want to tell you: I’m not ready for My Historic Photoshoot. I want to tell you: this seems like a rigid, remembered future to partake in. One day in the weeks and the months and the years ahead, I am supposed to look back (and we all inevitably will). and i will say, aha, This was The Day.
The day for what, exactly?
The Day for What
It’s a ceremony. And like most ceremonies, it is imbued only with the power we believe it to have. And so today, many of my friends will come together, them with their friends and families. And we will have the speeches. We will have the awards. We will take the pictures. We will all participate in this amazing performance known as The Commencement Ceremony. It is supposed to be a Milestone. The Day in which we mark the Beginning of…something. After all, that is why we call it a Commencement. Something is beginning. Something is starting…
I think that ceremonies are important. They are like punctuation marks, delineating the chaos and the haphazard everything of our daily lives into some semblance of order. But some ceremonies are more equal than others. Some ceremonies are laden with so much meaning, I don’t know what to do with them. The sense of time passing, of life happening, is just too pronounced. There’s a sense that I’m going to fumble, and let the moment slip. That today is just going to be far more boring and mundane and awkward than it looks in the photos I’m supposed to take.
Ceremonies are markers. Punctuation marks: the commas and the semicolons and the periods and the ellipses that separate the words and sentences and the paragraphs that are the daily songs of our lives.
And yet what are punctuation marks without the words? What is the silence without the noise?
I like ceremonies, although I am continually underwhelmed by them. Ceremonies are the tips of icebergs, the narrow summits of great mountains, which mark the beginning and ending of things. If we attend the ceremony and forget the things that have gone before, or the things that have come after these ceremonies, we forget the journey, and remember only the destination, the end-point.
Big Days and Small Days
Later today, as I sit bored out of my mind by some bland, obligatory speech(es), I am going to remember I am merely sitting on the full-stop of a journey that has spanned four academic years.
As some generic, uplifting statements about our vague futures are made, I will remember the first time I stepped into USP, and realised that in some way, I had found my own people.
As some unexciting comment is made about “our campus life”, I will remember all the conversations about everything and nothing; the excited curiosity of my freshman years; the optimism and the hope of studying and living alongside peers who were just as curious as I was about embarking on this odyssey. The late nights and early mornings spent talking and gossiping about people about cultures about quantum physics about the environment about the life stories of a plastic cup, about nationalism and the arts.
As some ambiguous, facile metaphor is likely made about “mountains” or “taking flight” or “sailing forward”, I will remember that time I spent a three weeks in rural Thailand, living uncomfortably and learning intensely in a Pakyanyaw village. I will remember those five months I spent in Utrecht and in Europe; that (largely) solo sojourn into the West, seeing and learning from the much-vaunted centres and cradles of Western civilisation(s). I will remember the friends I made in so many cities and so many cultures. Utrecht, Tehran, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Jakarta, Amsterdam, Chiang Mai, Singapore.
Today is the Big Day.
But on this Big Day, I want to remember all the small days. The ones full of nothing very important, the ones we hardly remember. The little moments and small hours in which we shared a breakfast, or an evening, a word, or a thought, or an eclair. Big Days and Ceremonies are empty without the small ones, that fill our moments, that make our memories.
Full Stops and Stories
In about four hours, I am supposed to graduate, to commence.
Let me not see only the full-stop. Let me remember as well the full-lives I have lived here: changing, growing, struggling and remaking myself, again and again and again.
Here indeed is the full-stop, the ending. It is used to signify that you are about to begin another story.
“She had always felt that the essence of human experience lay not primarily in the peak experiences, the wedding days and triumphs which stood out in the memory like dates circled in red on old calendars, but, rather, in the unselfconscious flow of little things – the weekend afternoon with each member of the family engaged in his or her own pursuit, their crossings and connections casual, dialogues imminently forgettable, but the sum of such hours creating a synergy which was important and eternal.” | Dan Simmons, Hyperion