Two weeks ago, sitting at my sister’s desk in Oregon, I submitted my last paper of undergrad.
It was, as endings go, a very sedate one. No big stressful final exam, just a five-page paper and a short email. I had told people I was graduating, but I hadn’t made any big announcement about it. There was no ceremony before I left for Christmas, not even a reception; I’ll walk at the regular commencement in May, but until then I’ll just quietly disappear from campus, remove myself from student mailing lists, and try to get a head start on real life while I wait for the rest of my class to catch up.
If my high school graduation was a whirlwind of deadlines and events and people and emotions, then my college graduation is the opposite. All the energy that built up as I finished that chapter of my life is being released as I close out this one, a calming of the waves rather than a rising of the tide.
This wasn’t my intention. I had always planned on spending the full four years at Georgetown, taking fascinating classes with great professors and making the most of my college years. It wasn’t until the week before classes started, as I was talking with a friend about the fast-approaching semester, that I even considered the alternative. “I’m looking forward to classes starting, but I’m also kind of dreading it,” I told her. “I just wish I could be done with it all.”
It was as if a cartoon lightbulb appeared over my head. Why can’t you? whispered a voice in the back of my mind. I had enough extra credits from my AP tests to manage it, but I had written off the idea years ago because I thought my financial aid would help pay for my housing—which turned out not to be the case, but when I initially received that news I had failed to reevaluate my options.
By the end of the week, I had talked through it with my roommate, my parents, and my older friends, and I had essentially decided. The only negative anyone could seem to come up with was the one my roommate put forward: “People say to appreciate your college experience, because you’ll never get another four years like this.”
To be honest, it wasn’t much of a negative. Through no real fault of anyone in particular, my college experience has been fairly mediocre. In between the good moments have been plenty of bad ones, or at least plenty that I don’t particularly care to relive. It has been stressful and tiring; anxiety-ridden, tear-stained; lonely at some times and maddening at others. If the only “downside” to graduating early was that I would abandon all of that a semester sooner than expected, well, that wasn’t much of a downside at all.
There’s something strange about graduating this way. There’s no build-up to the big event, no parties, no endless congratulations. No retrospective montage of joyful hugs and smiling group photos and caps thrown in the air. I’m coming back to my same apartment, with my same roommate; my same job, albeit full-time. It’s just that I left DC a student, and I’m returning… not.
It feels almost like fading out, but I’m okay with that. In my last few weeks, people asked me over and over how I felt about it—was I sad? was I excited?—and I usually came back to one answer: “I’m ready.”
And really, when I get down to it, that’s all there is to say.