Thursday night I went for a walk around LSU’s campus. I kept seeing signs that designated parking for the commencement services. The crowd thickened the longer I walked, and I began to see families gathered with their graduates. I saw groups of young graduates laughing and cutting up with beaming smiles on their faces. Pretty college girls posed for pictures in their caps and gowns and platform shoes. A large crowd gathered at Mike the Tiger’s cage, and I heard several other parties declare they wanted to see him before they left. As I got further away from the Assembly Center, lone graduates raced in that direction trying to beat the clock. Two female graduates were hugging goodbye to another female student. I overheard them say how much they would miss seeing each other and promised to stay in touch.
I thought about my college graduation from Southeastern Louisiana University. My whole family came. I was the first of four college graduates in my family, so it was a big damn deal. My biggest fear at the time was about the future and what life might look like after 16 years of school. All I knew was books and study and tests and papers. I had no idea what a full-time working life would resemble, and I certainly had no idea if I could make enough money to support myself in an apartment – buying my own food, paying my car note and supporting myself. College graduation was probably the biggest “jumping off place” of my life. In fact, I was so scared that I wimped out. Looking back now, I know that I jumped into my first marriage wanting security. I loved my first husband, but I was 23, and I really had no idea what love was. I certainly had no idea what marriage would be like. But, I knew that he had made his way, and I could trust him. He was a good man. And I was scared of making it on my own. It seemed like a much simpler way to go. Little did I know how much it would complicate my maturing process.
My first cousin’s daughter graduated from LSU yesterday. I suppose that school is so big that they have several celebrations. I’ve seen Katie Lynn post for months about her challenges getting the last semester done and then recently her excitement at being finished. She’s so excited. “Graduating for me was a surreal experience. I’ve been in school my whole life basically. I went to college right out of high school so to think that I am officially done with college ….. unless I decide to go back one day, -not anytime soon ….lol….. doesn’t seem real. School is all I’ve ever known really, so to think about having to go out in the “real world” without somebody telling me what is right or wrong is kind of scary,” she said. That’s the part I remembered the most about that time. I just had no idea what life would look like. I ended up “jumping off” and doing what Katie is about to do after my first divorce. It was the first time I ever had to support myself. It was scary as hell then, but at least I knew what being a working adult looked like. I think we don’t give college graduates enough room to be frightened about the whole experience. We want to push them out of the nest and get them to fly, but it’s a HUGE leap. Young adults these days can stick around home longer, but in my day, you had to launch. I don’t remember ever feeling I had a choice, so I just landed in another next.
She added in typical Katie style, “But I’m more excited than scared because this will be a new chapter in my life. I don’t know what to expect but I went to college so I could do something with myself, so I’m gonna go out there and give it hell! ….lol…” And I have no doubt she will. I thought of those gals I saw leaving their friend, and I asked her what she’ll miss most. “I’m not sure what I will miss about college because it hasn’t really set in yet that I’m actually done so I don’t really miss it yet …. lol …. but I think I will miss getting to meet so many different people. Each semester you meet a new set of people, and that was pretty cool,” she said. She added that she’s looking for jobs in Pharmaceutical or Medical Sales but has her real estate license in her Mother’s tradition, so she’s exploring her options. I imagine she’ll land on her feet. Most everybody eventually does. My first job was as a newspaper reporter at the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen TX. I loaded up my Mercury Lynx with all of my belongings and drove south to the tip of Texas for $225 per week. That lasted for just a few months before I married. It could have been an adventure if I’d had the courage to stick it out.
My running coach, Jessica, graduated with her Masters Degree today from the University of Texas. It’s not as huge a leap as Jess has supported herself before and knows the drill. But, she’ll be relocating to Tulsa and starting her own business based on the knowledge she gained in school and her past experience coaching such stellar athletes as me. She, too, has been nervous as hell about the decisions she had to make after she graduated. She finally made her plan a couple of months ago, and she’s now heading steady in that direction. But, I remember telling her to be gentle with herself about the fear and paralysis about her next steps. Those steps are really, really big. Because I couldn’t take them myself, I envy these bright-eyed beautiful young women who are taking on the world in their sparkly, sexy style. I hope that one day they look back at this graduation and honor the choices they made. I pray their wrinkled eyes – those creases of joy – sparkle when they think of how hard they worked to become their own woman, and they feel great pride at the lives they built for themselves. I hope they can laugh at the giant mistakes they made – and they will stumble – and realize they learned the most important lessons of their lives from them. I have a feeling that both of them will always be meeting new people and having new experiences because that’s just the kind of women they are. Katie has nothing to fear in losing that. The world is their oyster. I say swallow it whole … make it spicy, please. Congratulations, Katie and Jess. I can’t wait to see you fly!