A motto my girlfriend and I have been living by for the past couple months has been “we just gotta make it through December.” Of course, what we really meant was “we just gotta make it through fall semester.” Well, here we are.
Things have been tight up here for a couple months now. We’ve both been absolutely slammed with our senior class load, a little tight on money, I’ve been working, and sleep has been touch and go just about every night. It was like treading water for three months straight. Nothing gets better, progress isn’t really made, but it’s all just an effort to avoid drowning.
And then, graduation officially happened.
I honestly didn’t have plans to write about graduation. I’ve already published my longing goodbye to Pullman, I got to put words to that bittersweet feeling of finishing my time as a student here. However, enough happened at the actual ceremony that I thought mentioning it was worthwhile.
I didn’t get a real high school graduation due to COVID. Instead, it was online, and they managed to mess up my name twice. I didn’t even get a proper fake graduation. This meant that my college graduation was the first time I had any sort of ceremony, and it made that a little bit more intimidating.
Graduation is so weird because the ceremony feels overblown in a lot of ways. We’re all in these dumb matching outfits, all these fancy people are on a stage dressed like royalty, and we’re at the bottom of this big bowl of a stadium with everyone watching us. It all just feels sort of unnecessary. It’s a big thing with thousands of people in attendance, where over an hour is spent reading a list of names. It just feels... sorta silly.
As the ceremony got started, this weird anxious feeling started creeping up my spine. I happened to be the Gonfalon bearer for the college of education. I am still perplexed as to what I did to deserve this distinction, as I skated through college on a cool 3.3 GPA in what is generally considered one of the easier majors, but I was chosen nonetheless.
Being a Gonfalon bearer is pretty simple. You carry a flag from one end of the ceremony to the other, place it on the end of the stage, and then go sit in the front row. You’re on the big-screen a couple times, Elizabeth Chilton says your name, and then you go sit back with your college. My mom later told me that it was obvious I was scared to be on screen because I never looked at the camera, but maybe I was trying to seem mysterious and intriguing. Who’s to say?
As the ceremony went on, the anxiety I had when I entered Beasley Coliseum slowly turned to appreciation. They do all of this- moving the basketball court, dressing up like loons, getting parched reading names, and raining confetti from the ceiling- for us. This is the only way they know how to celebrate our literal life’s work. Every day of my life, from that early morning on February 2nd, 2002, led to this moment, and this was them celebrating that for me.
I’ve been in school for 15 years now. I’ve never been a particularly good student, just a great test-taker with a world class feel for bullshitting essays. I would be hard-pressed to say I earned this, because my work ethic has never really aligned with my studies, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment and pride that I have rarely felt.
I’m not a particularly proud person usually. I used to be, but I’ve taken my humbling lumps and I tend to understand most of my accomplishments come from a communal effort rather than something I, individually, willed. This accomplishment is no different, but for some reason this time I allowed myself to get patted on the back.
Basically, my entire family was in the stands, and that meant the world to me. As much as I can say that I didn’t get a real high school graduation, they were the real victims of that. I didn’t want one, it was a formality. But to them- it was supposed to be a moment where they could clap and cry and cheer because their baby was all grown up. I’m happy they all got to be here to finally do that. They clapped and cried and and cheered, and I’m lucky for it. I won’t go through each and every one of them, but I hope they all know that I love them and I wouldn’t be here without them.
The best part of the day was getting to see my girlfriend, Amberlee, graduate. She had a much harder road getting here than I did, and her perseverance was something I got to see everyday. She was the last one to get her name called at the ceremony and, thus, she got one of the biggest standing ovations of anyone that day.
She earned it. More than almost anyone who gave her that ovation realized, she fucking earned it. She gritted her teeth through some of the hardest stuff a young person can go through and she still finds time to laugh, to make people’s day, and to care for everyone she meets. She is gonna be a helluva teacher someday.
Of course, the semester was not truly done yet, but that felt like a fitting cap. We had a few assignments left, a final here and there, but that moment felt like the climax. The rest has simply been falling action.
Now, a week later, we are actually, fully done. I finished finals, got straight Bs to complete my college career, and I walked down on that Beasley floor and got a thing to put my diploma in.
As I write this, I’m sipping hot chocolate, watching the snow come down as a thick fog rolls in, and I just feel grateful. I’m surrounded by people I love all the time. Whether it be my wonderful girlfriend, my cute little dog, my parents, my grandparents, my friends, and everyone on this website, I’m just lucky.
There’s been a lot of sadness around things this week. The passing of Mike Leach has hit home for many Cougs, especially those who got to cover and converse with him. I never had much of a connection to Leach, but I understand the pain many feel and the hole he leaves. That hole will never be filled, but the best we can all do is look around us, to those we love, and realize how lucky we are to have them in our lives. The holes we’d have to fill without all of them are infinite.
I’m officially done as a student. One more semester that involves zero actual classes, just a remote internship, and I’ll be off to a different place. I think of those close to me whenever I think about where I’m going. I think about what they’ve done for me, I think about making them proud, and I think about Pullman.
In less than a week I’ll be back in the Tri-Cities to celebrate Christmas. I’ll hug and laugh and eat food that conflicts heavily with my diet, all in the name of the season. Fall is over, winter goes fast, and spring is on its way. As always, spring brings a new dawn, and I can’t wait for that day.
To all, my fellow grads,
We’ve made it through. We didn’t drown.
Go Fucking Cougs.