Graduation and its multiple dimensions

NOTE: This is an essay for a student magazine, which requested a crtical appraisal of the “graduation event”.
(C) MD 2007

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For anyone who has completed any stage of higher education the process/event of graduation carries different meanings and consequences. But then, graduation can carry multiple meanings anyway…
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University graduation can mean the successful completion of a period when the person spent his/her time studying, experiencing life, undergoing socialisation, discovering friends and enemies, discovering idiots and geniuses, learning to trust and distrust, experiencing one’s genius or mediocrity. Either way, graduation provides CLOSURE. After it comes another period of life, filled with new people, opportunities and challenges, idiots and gurus, liars and cheaters, suckers and con-artists, victims and winners.
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For those that spent their time hard at work, utilising the opportunities open to them, graduation is the end of one period in their life — by the time they receive their (often symbolic) diplomas, they will be already engaged in new/other/different projects, and they come back for emotional reasons, to renew relationships and/or gossip about the differences they’ve already experienced, and “how cool” the next thing IS. They use the period of learning and growth to progress, and now want to “touch base” for the last time, saying goodbye, saying “thank you”, promising to exploit the opportunities ahead.
For some, graduation is the last chance to avenge their hurts and pains, coming to the event with a vengeful attitude or a “my shrink told me to come” approach. They will complete the process, holding their fingers underneath the togas (in some kind of Satanistic “deniability” routine), spitting in corners, and telling everybody “never again”, waiting for the moment when they can finally (and forever) LEAVE, burying their hurts, pains, frustrations, under-performances, personal and emotional failures.
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Parents need graduation too — it is the equivalent of a Nobel Prize or “fastest sack-racer” diploma. For parents, a graduation is the culmination of several years of financial and emotional effort (and often sacrifice on a scale never fully appreciated by the child), a form of proof that they themselves are not bad people and their offspring was able to “fit into the wider society” by obtaining a degree, regardless of the delays and/or financial outlays and/or mildly shocking infobites/pictures about their child. Like any investor, the parents use this opportunity to realise/cash-in their “profit”, proving to themselves and others that they have “done a good job”. Looking from a sociological perspective, parents are supposed to provide their children with opportunities to become better than they were themselves at that age/time — graduation from a good school gives parents some confidence that a child is (to some degree) protected, that with a decent education the child can only go forward, become better, advance. A degree today is like expensive armour in the middle ages or combat training/experience during the Caveman era. Graduation means hope — we all need it, but parents (always worried about their offspring) crave it desperately.
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Teachers experience graduation as well — it is the “shipping date” for our product, one that we’ve spent 3 or 5 years developing. Our “product” is well-known to us, we’ve experienced “it” for days on end (or at least once a week), we’ve seen “it” perform in different circumstances, we’ve yelled at “it”, guided “it”, interacted in a variety of ways and on various levels. We are the engineers that send the new model of the rocket into space, holding our fingers and breaths, hoping the rocket will reach space. We are often afraid whether the rocket will “make it”; we worry whether we’ve done everything, everything to the last .00001% to assure success, to make our rockets see the “space” that we personally never will, because we are still stuck at Cape Canaveral, in front of the monitors. We never hear “Houston, we have a problem”, because in our job, the rockets loose contact just after launch — as a result we are the most gifted of engineers/designers: we have to create our rockets without “trial-and-error” and without feedback messages like the one from Apollo 13. Those of us who are not scared at the moment of “lift-off” don’t have a heart or never cared about our “rockets” in the first place — preferring the magic of theoretical/removed engineering to the magic of involved CREATION. Sometimes, we regain contact with our rockets — it is ONLY through those communiqués that we are evaluated (punished or rewarded) and can evaluate ourselves — as a TEACHER, only the success of students is our true measure: we live and die by YOUR results (the scary part is: our “results” mean your LIFE…).
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When already-alumni throw their hats in the air, the flight of those little material-covered bits of head gear carry with them the hopes and fears of MANY MORE people than just those throwing them. Behind the 3-second flight, jovial smile and eyes-aimed-skyward, stands tens of thousands in financial investment (whichever currency), years spent in a specific location, loves, fears, betrayals, friendships, frustrations, hundreds hours of work and effort. When I look at the 3-second flight of dark blue squares over the steps of our main building, I always ask myself: do they feel like the hero of “Shawshank Redemption”, once he crawled through 500 yards of piping, fell into a ditch in a mid-summer storm, yet yells in delight at the glorious prospects that await him just the next day?? Do they understand the event, appreciate it?? I truly hope so — the flight is short, yet so FULL OF HOPE… This most fleeting of moments (like all the good ones and worth remembering in life), will be gone tomorrow, remembered only through a few photographs that: the family might put in a visible place; the teachers will never get; the alumni himself/herself might not remember or appreciate until 5-10-15 years from now… Good or bad, the time spent in a school is over — you’ve “done your time”. Welcome the rain falling into your face see the opportunities. Welcome them, take them. WIN. Win for yourself and for us.
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Yet, graduation is not an event to be experienced only at university. Completion of one phase, progress into another, are all part of God’s plan for each of us.
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One day you will wake up, stand in the mirror and experience the nearly-religious epiphany: “good God, I’m really good at what I do!!!” This split-second thought will mark the end of your period of slavery and initiate a life of mastery, when you know your worth and demand recognition and/or rewards. You’ve just graduated out of the ocean of mediocrity. You will be changed for ever (trust me, I KNOW).
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One day you will see your best achievements being taken away with no good reason given or after a “we say so” argument that you must loose. Betrayed, sometimes broken, but never defeated, you graduate into a new level of understanding — you were used, but NO MORE. You will now give only enough to stay employed (regular payments into a bank MATTER :p), seeking opportunities, income, satisfaction, self-fulfilment ELSEWHERE. You are a slave NO MORE.
One day you read a book about Chinese culture or military warfare or strategy and you come across the description of “death by a thousand cuts” and discover that you are dying such a death: hundreds of little insults, annoyances, evils done to you for no reason other than you are too good compared to “them”. You discover how much blood, sweat and tears it had cost you to fight those tiny “thousands cuts”, to resist the cutters and still do your job well. No more. You are the winner and they, the tiny, nasty gremlins without faces must retreat into the murky darkness from whence they came. One day you look at your co-workers, colleagues, bosses or underlings, and UNDERSTAND how useless, stupid, hopeless, tiny, mediocre, grey, annoying, self-absorbed they are. You see the IDIOTS around you. You see how tiny they are. You see the WALLS of your prison that “they” have placed around you. And, like in the movie “Papillon”, (when Dustin Hoffman, I think, steps out of a solitary confinement cell in which he lived for several years and could take 6 steps before running into a wall) you take the first six steps of freedom, FALL ON your face (due to being conditioned into “their” system of restraints and “oh no you can’t do that”), but then get up and walk on like the TRUE, proud man/woman that you are. We step on cockroaches, not negotiate with them.
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There are many graduations: all of them require the completion of one stage and then they open the next. At school, at work, in life, we ALL are the Alchemist’s apprentices: at a point in life we have achieved enough understanding, knowledge and skills to be granted access to the next level, to further opportunities. The future will never be easy — that is NOT how God designed the world: we will suffer, fight, scream, bleed, sweat, cry, fail, and then rediscover ourselves, get angry, get motivated, work more, work faster…and see the DOOR. Graduate to the NEXT thing, next challenge or the next opportunity. Remember when Neo in Matrix stopped the bullets?? He graduated THEN — saw the Matrix for what it really was: a system that can be used/exploited :))))))))))
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Here is the dilemma that I will/have-to pose to you: unlike the university graduations, where pictures are made and many people experience the same event, WHO will know about your next graduations?? How can you inform anyone about them?? How can they understand them?? TRUST me — you will want to scream about them to everyone, but it will be difficult to do… How can you tell people about your personal progress, increasing understanding, rejection of idiotic rules and people, etc??
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Graduation, graduation, graduations, more graduations…Sounds bad?? It gets worse.
You die.
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Death is a graduation as well: you complete a stage, just like God intended it. You lived for 70-100 years, gained all of your experiences and knowledge, made your sins, repented for them, given out love, forgiven pain and hate. God is your DEAN — he looks at your transcript and decides whether you are worthy of…yep, you guessed it…worthy of graduation. Again. To the next level.
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Oh, it gets worse. Still ;p
Hindus talk about reincarnation. Which means that even in the afterlife, God-as-your-Dean, has got you: should the student be deemed unworthy or has committed a sin (like you plagiarising someone in your Licencjat or Magister) he/she will be sent back to repent for their sins (didn’t you have any friends who failed and had to retake modules?? For the Hindus a module is…one life/incarnation ;p). Once the penance has been done/paid, progress is possible, into the next body, the next incarnation at a higher level.
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Enjoy THIS graduation. There are MANY more ahead.

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