What did you accomplish?
Lord knows where I should start with this one. 2014 in and of itself should be an accomplishment, filled with tiny victories that are honestly still in progress. But there’s one thing that stands out above the rest: maybe some of you, Dear Readers, have been there. Maybe some of you have witnessed it, and multiple times over. I know that a multitude of loved ones were there, when I walked that stage and turned that tassel. For you it might have been anti-climactic, or so hectic and emotional that you might not remember it.
But for me, it was everything.
The recollection of that early morning is vague. You can recalling getting ready, slowly taking out our cap and gown and putting it near the edge of the bed so that you don’t forget anything The family starts pouring in as Mom prepares breakfast on your kitchen counter, and in a matter of minutes the apartment is bustling with people. Your sister, aunt, and cousin walk in and take a look around; this is the first and only time they’ll see the place. You take a picture or two while your hair isn’t messy and your make-up isn’t running. You’re too busy making sure that you know where you’re going once you get to the arena.
It’s a very bright day outside and you’re surprisingly in an upbeat mood, mostly because you’re trying to focus on the fact over twenty people have come to see you today. Your parents ask you how you’re doing and you say, “it’s the end of an era” with a little too much emotion, despite being unsure of how you’re supposed to be feeling.
“Do I look OK?” you ask multiple times before snapping a picture with Herky and then with your parents. The arena is already swarming with students and families who attended the first ceremony earlier, and it takes time to get to the entrance. You don’t want the doors to open, but you know they will and you know you have to go.
As you and Mom make your way to the main floor, you look over and realize that she is starting to cry, and that along with the Iowa Hawkeyes logo stretching across a min-jumbotron makes you choke up too. Do not break down! You tell yourself as the coordinator points to the front row, indicating where you’ll be sitting and that the formal procession will begin shortly. You’re glad you’re not walking down the stairs (how is that possible when you have to go quickly, and much less in heels), but being in the front row makes you feel uneasy. There were no rehearsals, so all you can do is hope you don’t look like an idiot.
The ceremony begins as professors and students proceed down the stairs. The commencement speakers are teachers of either philosophy or theology, and one even encourages people to tweet his speech while talking. It was so long and therefore difficult to remember everything, but he touches on going out into the world and crediting parents for getting you all here, which the crowd takes about a minute or two to applaud. He encourages graduates to ask for help, and the phrase “Hawkeyes stick together” causes you to well up with emotion all over again. You suddenly experience chills, an indication that something big is happening, and you better remember it.
This isn’t a day to be sad, you realize, but a day to be proud. It’s not about getting a formal piece of paper or proving anyone wrong. It’s about how you laughed, danced, created, kissed, cried, lost, hoped, prayed, grieved, rejoiced, loved, and savored. But you also found: God, friends, but most importantly, you found yourself again.
And it was all in this beautiful place that some call college, others Iowa City, but you know that part of you will always call it home.
I was here. Holy crap, I really was here. In this place, with these people. I did it!!!
You pay enough attention to walk up and get your diploma (holder), despite that your cap is slightly crooked and you probably blinked during the formal picture. You don’t quite get why the tassel turning took place in the middle of it all, but after every name is called and the Class of 2014 is presented, the arena erupts once more.
And all you can think of doing is this:
The family joins you on the floor for hugs, flowers, and well-wishes, but before you can make it outside you sneak into one of the private bathrooms in the tunnel, because you have to go that bad. After more pictures and congregating, your family drops you off near the business building to meet one of your best friends on a popular walkway; you didn’t get to sit together during graduation so you decide to make up for it by snapping a photo in front of the chemistry building. So many memories of this one little walkway, particularly when you were a freshman. Every block is a flash of something and by the time you make your way back to your apartment, you’re mind is starting to go numb due to sensory overload.
The Pentacrest is a zoo, but you’re still hoping to run into someone you know. In this moment, you just want to be held. Ideally it would be by one person in particular, but how good would it feel for anybody to put their arms around you and just hold you there for about a minute.
The celebration kicks off with an intimate family dinner at a (now closed) local Italian place, and you have a couple of hours to rest before the real fun begins. By nine o’clock you’re seated at one of your favorite hangouts, sipping cherry-lime long islands as you introduce your brother to your closest friends. You dance and drink and celebrate in order to remember, knowing that you’ll probably relive these moments in your head for years to come.
By the early hours of the next morning you collapse in exhaustion, but thankful not to have turned into a hot mess. Your body is tired but your heart is full, and the words keep repeating around in your head, that of which you recall today.
I Was Here.