I wrote the following right before I graduated from UMass Dartmouth. It meant a lot to me to write, and I hope it accurately captures how the experience, and the people involved in it, impacted me.
I’ve been at this college thing for six years now (with the exception of a semester a few falls ago when I—foolishly—took a break from school to wait around for a boy.) It wasn’t easy. When you’re this much of a spazz, most things aren’t. But the challenges were beyond academic: they were personal, social and, above all, emotional. At the end of my half-dozen years sludging through as an undergrad, I can say—with minimal resignation and absolutely no scruples—I hit all the important landmarks. I wrote a twelve-page research paper from start to finish in an evening, with the help of some debatably legal ingestables. I ate campus food on a daily basis for an entire academic year. Had a significant emotional breakdown mid-semester; fell out of love, fell in love, fell down stairs from drinking too many brass monkies. I didn’t “do it all”… no one-night stands, never pledged a sorority, didn’t even join a club or try for honors. But I did enough to feel done.
Now I have a degree in English. An eight-and-a-half-by-eleven (maybe a little bigger, for prestige) piece of cardstock that declares to anyone interested, “My name is Hannah Tool and I know very little, but can explain anything.” Bigger and brighter things await me. Bigger bills, when my student loans come due on May 27th (five days after I walk—that whole deferment thing is a lie, by the way) and brighter fluorescent lights at my full-time retail job. But selling service plans and arguing return policy ethics is a form of communication, even rhetoric, so my degree isn’t a total waste. Yet.
I’m not complaining. I love my job, and underneath the numbness and nausea overwhelming my seemingly sudden thrust into the elusive “real world” lays an immense feeling of complacency. And, holding hands with it, a bubbling sense of wonder big enough to burst my chest wide open.
I’m sure I’ve told each one of you at some point that I dropped out of high school. Yes, I know— at this point, who cares? I honestly don’t think I do anymore. I wish I did—the drive to get a bachelor’s degree was primarily fueled by a lingering feeling of inadequacy from being a dropout. I was hoping for a happy ending. But graduating is hardly an ending. If it were, why would they call it “commencement”? I did this for all the wrong reasons. But the end is justifying the shit out of the means.
Every one of you in some way affected the position I’m in today. Some of you were part of the mess, some of you helped to clean it up, a few are just passing smiles in hallways and a handful changed who I am forever. Trite and sentimental, yes, but I am a student of the English language and lesson one is that no thought is fresh. And recycling is oh, so sexy.
College taught me how to hold my stress on a leash between my teeth and never, never let it get away from me. It taught me that shaving your legs in the shower is doable, and that Carlo Rossi is the most economical option for the devoted drinker on a budget. It taught me that being the tattooed girl who scowls most of the time and yells at parties isn’t the best way to make tons of friends, but it’s the only way to make the best friends; the friends that I don’t have to see every day to care about, don’t have to hear from every week to feel like they care about me.
College taught me—no, not that I still have a lot to learn, because fuck off we all know that—but college taught me to make decisions selfishly. I go forward now carrying the same embarrassment and regret with which I arrived. I’m more articulate than I was at the get-go, and I can legally drink now. But I’m the same damn person. And thank God for that.
So here we go. Graduation. I might never see some of you again, but thanks. And to those that I do see again, thanks in advance. For all of us and to everyone: Just be happy. And don’t fuck around. Life is way too short for fucking around.