Like many schools, my alma mater held a “surprise” concert for seniors during the week before our graduation. For my class it was the then-local band Guster, which I was reminded of recently when given a Guster playlist by a friend. For whatever reason I have very clear memories of standing in the Mod Lot listening to Fa Fa on a spring day nine years ago last week.
I listened to that Guster mix while traveling to my younger brother’s college graduation this weekend. The combination of a significant family milestone and nostalgia-inducing tunes prompted quite a bit of relection on what exactly commences at Commencement.
One thing is for sure: graduates are expected to have an answer to the question “What are you doing next?” This, of course, refers to what your job will be, or if you’ll prolong your academic career, or if you’ll enter some do-gooder volunteer program that you will soon tire of describing. If I had a nickel for every time I said “full-time volunteer teacher at a tuition-free private school for low-income, high-achieving boys” I would be very wealthy. Never mind explaining the deferred matriculation for a masters degree in singing. (Yes, they let you get those).
What was the real answer to “what I was going to do”? I was going to struggle with impulsiveness and immaturity. I was going to live in a fun and easy-going community and know the joy of working with people whose values matched mine. I was going to scamper to gigs all over my small, temporarily adopted city finding gigs wherever I could get them. I was going to drive over the Fairhaven bridge at sunset and marvel at the independent, beautiful life I had. I was going to need help and not know how to ask for what I needed. I was going to do my best to keep growing.
When I think about the many close friends I had in college I truly marvel. By graduation I still wasn’t grown up or thoughtful or even very nice. That these people saw past my negativity and obnoxiousness to the slightly more charming person I would someday become still astonishes me. These are the people who danced with me in the Mod Lot for our senior concert.
They are also the ones whose continued example helped me to change. It was my friends, my family, and God (welcomed in by my commitment to continued reflective prayer) that led me on the path to maturity, the path to whom I was to be. That path was much more important than “what I was going to do”.
Which is why I find it hard to be chagrined to report my brother doesn’t have a full time career lined up for today, the Monday after graduation. Even though I was too much of a control freak to finish college without the next three years of my life lined up, some perspective has revealed that all of our best laid plans often have very little to do with what makes our lives rich and fulfilling.
For many of us college is when we start to figure out how to be the people we want to be. Yes, graduation means that life won’t be the same hereafter, but what matters is that after commencement we are the same – still bearing the same bad or good habits, still loving, still loved.
Driving from the train station to my parents’ house on Saturday evening I was caught in one of the storms that have blanketed New England for over a week. This one was different than the others – I could see the sun just down the road even though raindrops splattered my windshield and the clouds hung over my head. I knew there would be a rainbow somewhere, and I sought it out more for its beautiful hues than for the reminder it would offer of God’s promises. I looked from side to side by my wipers were slapping away and the road was growing slick. I had to focus on staying the course so I kept driving toward the sun, convinced that the rainbow was out there somewhere.