The Awkward Handshake, Wizards, and Sailing.

Only The Graduate had the balls to talk about the post-college malaise that settles in after Graduation Day lunch has been eaten and all the family is gone. Well, maybe a few other media texts have offered up their opinion on the matter, but I’m no expert on that. Oh wait, my degree is in Film and Digital Media. I probably should be. At any rate, here I sit in my smoky sanctuary at an undisclosed location (for anonymity reasons), and the excitement is gone. I’ve crested the wave. I’ve peaked. And oh my God, look at that downhill. Emotional nuclear fallout, and I’m pretty sure there are disfigurements.

I just read what I wrote. Holy shit, that sounds depressing.

But maybe I’m not too far off the mark here. Academic work has been my life for several years now. Anticipation shrouded anxiety for a long time, and now that there’s nothing much else to anticipate, the fear of where to go and what to do has reared its ugly head. And boy, is it disfigured.

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock for the last 28 years, I’m notorious for being a drama queen. But I don’t feel hopeless. I just feel lost. The breakdown I had in the car after dropping Ava off with her Grandma was so intense that anyone who saw me might have thought I hadn’t cried in years. Not true. I’m a drama queen. I feel in 3-D. I cry during life insurance commercials.

I don’t want to say this, but I also feel like people who aren’t honest in their writing do a disservice to all of humanity, so I’m going to just come out with it. I felt kind of like a loser in the undergrad section. Lots of people told me, “You’re an inspiration! This is a big deal! Way to go!” But when I was sitting down there in the skin I’ve had for nearly three decades, surrounded by much younger flesh, all I could think of was how dumb it must look for me to be down there among them. Celebrate tardiness? Or poor decisions? Ah, my skewed perception gets the best of me all the time. I suppose it was that terribly uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability that was turning my stomach. Or maybe it was the guy sitting next to me who had really bad breath. I don’t know. I just felt…like the odd one out.

The procession was fun. I sat down and looked ahead at the huge banner with the Baylor logo on it. “Pro ecclesia, pro Texana.”  I thought of my mom and my Grandma. Ken Starr asked us to applaud our champions in the audience. Before anyone could beat me to it, I stood up and yelled, “Momma!” at the top of my lungs. I do love her, and she’ll always be the biggest fan of anything I write. The night before graduation I gave her and my dad a letter wherein I admitted how clueless I’d been in my younger years. In my heart rests an appreciation for them that I’ll never be able to fully express. Probably because they still piss me off sometimes.

When they finally asked my row to rise and approach the stage, the sting of nervousness rose from my gut to my esophagus. I looked around at the arena. I tried to memorize the sounds bellowing out from the seats above my head and the sight of all the robed denizens of the mental realm, patiently waiting their time of public affirmation. I took a snapshot, then turned my eyes upward. Wow. Baylor Basketball has done really well over the years, or at least that’s what the banners suspended from the ceiling indicated.

And then the man with the movie announcer voice said the sweetest words, “Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media…” My major was the coolest on campus. And suddenly the line was moving faster than it had all morning. I felt like I was looking through the viewfinder of a camera. The stairs were there. Ken Starr was right there. Some lady with a mouth full of metal was right there to escort me to the landing zone. “Susan Duty,” he said. I approached the Chancellor, who looked like a professor straight out of Harry Potter. What are you, a wizard? Shake with the right, grab your degree with the left. It was like I had rehearsed it at some point. Thinking about it now, I’m pretty sure my smile had faded and he could see terror in my eyes. I grabbed his hand and gave it a friendly shake for a full second. But like a total weirdo, he didn’t let go. I had enough time to think, “Hey man, keep the line moving.” Maybe he did see that terror I just mentioned. I’ve since decided that he’s a soothsayer of sorts and knew instinctively that I needed a longer handshake, for encouragement’s sake. But still, it was weird.

And just like that, it was over. I shook the Dean’s hand. Then another Hogwarts professor switched the tassel over to the left side of my funny cap. I descended the stage, took my picture and made my way back to the row where my colleagues were reveling in their accomplishments. They were smiling, patting each other on the back, laughing for Christ’s sake! Didn’t they know? Didn’t they realize the show was over? This was it. This was what had propelled me so many days. This leg of the race was done. I sank into my padded chair, stared at the floor, and underneath my black robe began to swirl an overwhelming, numbing sense of loss and confusion. In my hand, I held a piece of paper that stood for something. What was it again?

The lunch was also nice. Some friends showed up and my Uncle Dave and Aunt Sandy drove in from Fort Worth. This was remarkable for a few reasons. One, my Aunt Sandy isn’t a morning person and had to get up very early to drive through the rain in order to get there on time. Two, I hadn’t seen my Uncle Dave in well over a decade. Turns out, he’s a great guy. He smokes and cusses, and offered up some pretty good advice. “Good things don’t come to those who wait. Good things come to those who do shit,” he said. He also complimented my writing, said I have a “style,” and told me to keep hammering at it until I break something. Best thing I’ve heard all year. I laughed, thinking to myself, “I have to write, Uncle Dave. I have to keep at it or I’ll wither and die.”

To make a long story long, here’s what I learned today:

I learned that expectations are oftentimes just disappointments in disguise. That sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Let me add my usual optimistic spin. Life is made up of big events and little moments. I’m a sailor here. While I may have a map, let me not forget the authority of the wind. I should open my sails, and never become too obsessed with what the weather will be like. Truth is, I don’t know. Let me say thank you for the sun when I see it, and hallelujah for the rain that fills the ocean upon which my ship moves. Open the sails. Open the sails. Open the sails. Same goes for my mind, my eyes and my heart. I shouldn’t indulge in my morbid reflection as often. It’s good for getting me to realizations like this, but left undirected, it can be a real bitch of an activity.

To those of you that extended me the courtesy of reading this, please don’t send the number to a suicide prevention hotline. I feel much better after vomiting this in paragraph form. These things are what help me figure out life. It’s sequential, you know? Big events. Little moments. All of it stacks together for the purpose of teaching me something. I’m proud of myself, really. And I’m grateful, because bachelor degree or not, there’s always a lesson to learn. Good on ya, mates! Open ye sails!

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