Walk it out

At the dawn of every semester, when everything is overwhelming, and the syllabus looks never ending, I take a deep breath and picture one moment: a cap on my head, sash on my shoulders and diploma in my hand.

That image reminds me no matter how difficult the next three months may be, it will all be worth it when I get to walk the line for graduation. That payoff is constantly motivating me throughout every semester. Anytime my schedule gets tight or final exams approach, I force myself to picture that moment.

However, not everyone is keen for a pomp and circumstance affair.

I’ve recently discovered that not everyone relies on that same thought for motivation. I was genuinely surprised when I discovered that some students don’t care to participate in the commencement ceremony.

Thanks to one of my best friends, I learned that this is a real option for some students. She was getting closer to her final semester, and nonchalantly mentioned she wouldn’t be walking when her time at Cal State Long Beach was over.  

“It isn’t my thing,” she said.

But I was sure she would eventually change her mind.

Since when did students not wish to celebrate monumental achievements such as graduating from college? She’d gotten through school in a record time of just three years — a feat well worth celebrating. Perhaps my idea of celebrating such an accomplishment doesn’t line up with hers.

The tradition originated in the 12th and 13th centuries and was good enough for the first European universities, so it’s good enough me.

Despite my incessant begging to reconsider, she never wavered in her decision. At one point I even tried to enlist the help of her mom and grandpa, in hopes that they could help her realize what a big mistake she was making. But even they couldn’t convince her to put on that black cap and gown.   

Her decision, though unconventional, was also thought-provoking.

I started to question whether or not walking the line was worth all the hoopla that comes with it. People often forget, but graduation can be time consuming and expensive. With family members having to travel, the cost of renting or buying commencement garb and graduation photos — the expenses add up quickly.

But are those obstacles worth forgoing an event that represents all the sacrifices made to earn the right to walk across that stage?  

I say, hell no.

After sincere consideration over the past few months, I’ve decided that in spring of 2019, (God willing) I’m to going to walk that line.

I will likely forgo the classic yet cheesy photos with my feet in the fountain in front of Brotman Hall — that’s a whole separate argument.

Graduation, however time consuming or costly, is such a special part of the college process. In choosing to celebrate commencement, I’m taking advantage of a once in a lifetime feeling that can never be replicated. That feeling is something that no matter where I end up in life, no one can ever take away from me.

Bill Gates was quoted last fall by CNBC stating U.S. college dropout rates are “tragic.” He was commenting on a recent study that revealed only 54.8 percent of students graduate in six years.

This proves that despite how normalized receiving a college degree may seem or how celebrated it is on television or film, the task within itself remains a difficult one.

Another motivating factor in choosing to participate in commencement are my parents, grandmother and cousins, many of which weren’t afforded the same opportunities as myself.

I’m originally from an extremely small town in the central valley of California that happens to be surrounded by farms, factories, and prisons. To make it out of that town is a major accomplishment in itself. But to stay away and make something of your life warrants bragging rights.

Like many Cal State Long Beach students, I’ll be the first one in my immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree. According to a February 2018 report produced by RTI International, only 20 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients were first-generation students. Technically, I’ll be helping to change the statistics that currently don’t offer much hope to children of uneducated parents.

Even if the ceremony meant nothing to me, I would still do it for them.

I want my support system to see the physical manifestation of what all of their sacrifices amounted to. They are worthy of that moment, of that courtesy.

To anyone that still holds apprehension about participating in your graduation ceremony, I can only suggest that you reconsider. If not for yourself, if not for your family, go ahead and put on that cap and gown and do it for your haters. Because there are few feelings as satisfying as proving someone wrong.

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