Most people look forward to their college graduation. Since freshman year, I had been dreading mine. If you’ve spent more than a day in college, you’ve probably had some well-meaning person tell you: “College is the best four years of your life!” while squeezing your shoulders and smiling at you wistfully.
Coming in as a freshman, I felt the stopwatch of my Best Four Years begin to count down. I was blessed to go to a tight-knit school where I made close friends, enjoyed my classes, and had professors who were invested in their students. But while some of my classmates were celebrating the end of finals, every semester I was saddened to know I was closer to leaving.
I know not all college students feel the same, and some of us are more ready to leave sooner than others. But it’s probably safe to say we’ve all felt that lovely old feeling of senioritis at one point or another — some in the final stretch, some since the first week of freshman year. Contrary to my freshman fears, after eight semesters of exams, cafeteria food, and dorm rooms, I found myself very ready to graduate.
Amid all the mixed emotions of apprehension and excitement, most of us are probably ready to leave too. And that’s how it should be.
No matter how severe your senioritis is, graduation isn’t the tragic funeral of our best four years. It’s just the completion of a step. And these past few years of learning, growth, and preparation would have utterly failed their purpose if we stayed in college forever.
Being restless to move on to the next season doesn’t mean loving the people and the moments we take away from college any less. It means those lessons and community have accomplished their goal, of molding and preparing us for everything that comes afterward.
If you do feel fearful, sad, or regretful that such a season is at its close — the things you’ve loved about college were meant to equip you, to prepare you for something else. That doesn’t mean the friendships and habits you’ve been developing close with senior year. But they are now poised to be applied to new things: to new jobs, living spaces, challenges, and callings.
We may be just realizing this, but our parents have probably understood since they dropped us off at orientation. Parenting done right, after all, means kids don’t stay kids forever. Being ready to grow up meant that our childhood years did their job. And the parents who have both guided us through our younger years and encouraged our independence deserve as much congratulation as any graduate.
In the same way good parenting means the kids eventually grow up and move out, college done right means there comes a point when you’re ready to leave. Like the goodbyes you said to your parents when you came to college, the goodbyes you say at graduation are hard and heartfelt. But like those other goodbyes, they are timely.
Amid the change and goodbyes though, two things are worth remembering.
First, we should recognize and value what we can take with us from college. We can continue to invest in friendships fostered in undergrad. If we’ve formed habits well, they will carry well into the days and tasks ahead. We may continue to nourish the passions and talents we’ve discovered. It is the nature of a preparatory season to send us on our way, but it also sends us more equipped.
Second, expect this next stage of life to be a finite season, just like college. It’s easy to see our young twenties as “arriving.” Childhood is easily broken down into preschool, elementary, middle, and high school. College is a clearly defined season. Adulthood, from our newly minted perspective, spans the rest of our lives, with no graduation date in sight.
But like college, this next enterprise is a season too, whether it’s grad school, a new job, a new relationship, new roommates, a new city, or something else. It can be easy to compare these seasons, but none of them constitute “arrivals.” As college was a season of preparation, each following season will be preparatory. We will never arrive this side of glory.
So be watchful for what purpose these new challenges may be equipping you. Like college, they are not destinations but opportunities for growth. Hopefully, your time at school has equipped you well for things like grad school, jobs, relationships, or other new challenges. But it was never acting on the assumption that those things were the destination either.
Many of us are headed in directions very different from what we expected, especially after a year of watching the world react to the coronavirus. If post-grad plans were the ultimate destination, graduation day would be surrounded with far more pressure (and perhaps disappointment) than it needs to be.
But these next steps — no matter how prestigious or mundane — are simply another season of preparation. While they may be preparing us for future jobs, positions of influence, families, and experiences, even more so they are preparing our souls. If the people and experiences you met in college grew your soul, the seasons that follow will continue to firmly, gently, and mysteriously mold you too.
Graduation is not an untimely departure, nor is it an arrival. We’re simply getting off the ferry and into the ship. Eternity is on our hearts, and we have the promise that everything has been made beautiful — not just beautiful, but beautiful in its time.
Hopefully, you’ve found your time at school to be beautiful in its time. Its finitude can make it more meaningful, and its end is timely because it has served its purpose. As we embark on our next seasons, we can rejoice in the knowledge that our Creator has made the temporal beautiful, and our souls eternal.