the g-word

stepping into the future, then and now

“It’s a huge affair: almost three hours long, we sang at least four different songs. Oh, and we had a flash mob, ” I said a few weeks ago, explaining my high school graduation to a friend as we trudged up College Hill. She raised her eyebrows. “Really?” I nodded and continued to explain what a huge deal graduations in Hawai‘i are, often involving lots of singing and frenzied lei ceremonies. At my high school, it was even more of a production. Girls all wore the same white tailored mu‘umu‘u—a traditional Hawaiian dress—and heels, every boy wore the same custom suit, and throughout the ceremony we blew up a crazy number of inflatables to throw in the air. My friend’s surprised reaction reminded me that my experience was special and privileged, and that there is a reason pangs of nostalgia hit when I think about that night.

Now that high school is distant enough for me to fondly look back on the fun times and forget about the awkward experiences, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about those last moments of high school. I’ve been so focused on the now and the future that the big occasions of the past have faded to journal entries and photos that pop up through Facebook’s “On This Day” feature. Now, once again, I find myself a senior, facing graduating from a place I’ve loved for four years. And discussing that impending doom—the g-word, or whatever you want to call it—with my friend brought me back to that moment four years ago.

I had no idea what to expect when I posed with my high school diploma and walked off the stage into the next part of my life, trying to focus on the cheers and clapping from family and friends in the audience. I remember the waterfall of feelings that hit the day after, once the adrenaline that had kept me going through the ceremony, lei-giving, and post-grad party had worn off. It was all over. The community that I’d grown in since middle school was going to disassemble, and I wasn’t ready to let go.

“It’s not like your high school friends are going to fall off the face of the Earth as soon as you graduate and go to college,” my friend’s older sister told me. I knew that, but that wasn’t the big problem. I feared moving on and leaving, because I was never going to get any of it back. “What’s past is past” is a good mantra in some respects, but it was also what hit the hardest upon graduation. I wanted to hold onto the past because I was afraid of forgetting the smiles of my classmates as we held hands and sang “Hawai‘i Aloha” at our last Holok? pageant. I didn’t want to forget the ease of hanging out with my friends at our picnic bench between classes.

Having made it three and a half years since that apprehension began, I know that it is possible to move on without completely forgetting and letting go of the important people and places. When I arrived in Providence for my first year, I had already begun to move on, away from the attachment I had to the traditions, comforts, and friends of high school. I’ve only continued to go forward. Now, I can watch the video of my high school class doing a surprise flash mob to “We Are Young” by Fun or look at the photos of my friends and me beaming in our long white gowns, necks piled high with lei, without that aching homesickness I once felt. All the same, it’s hard to know I’m about to move on once again.

In the time between that graduation and this upcoming one, I’ve stepped into many new things: my freshman dorm, challenging classes, a different country for a semester, my first off-campus apartment, my first internship, a real job interview. No matter how many times I enter new territory, the uncertainty about what comes next always lingers. I’m a worrier, and I know that uncertainty will be there when I step off the stage in Sayles Hall, receiving my diploma for four years at a place I think of as home. But this time, I’ll have the knowledge that I’ve done it before. So now, on the threshold of the challenges and excitement of “real” adulthood, I have a vague idea of what to expect. Hopefully, that’s enough to get me through the emotional whirlwind of walking through the Van Wickle Gates on May 29.

We’re all avoiding saying the g-word; anytime it comes up within my circle of friends, someone is quick to make a face and change the subject. And I’m sure most seniors—high school or college—have similar feelings about avoiding the concept. We’re like the wizarding community of Harry Potter, afraid to say the name of You-Know-Who and acknowledge his presence.

But, as appealing as it is to live in this space of denial about the future, content with enjoying friends, off-campus living, and the emerging spring, I’m going to force myself to think about it, if only for the sake of slowly coming to terms with it. It’s like Dumbledore’s theory about saying “Lord Voldemort”: “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” If we’re censoring ourselves in terms of graduation, we’ll only build up a greater apprehension about what lies ahead in a few short months.

No matter how much preparation I have, how secure my immediate future is, or how surrounded by friends and family I am, nothing will make me fully comfortable with graduating from Brown. I know even my friends who have voiced how ready they are to be done have some anxiety about our release into the “real world”—who wouldn’t? And, by now, I know this is normal. So perhaps I should face the end of May with excitement rather than dread. If there’s anything my past self can teach me, it’s that enjoying these last few months might make the parting a little harder, but it will also make the memories deeper. It’s hard to come to terms with the idea that a few years from now, we’ll all have moved on, but (as cheesy as this sounds) it won’t be as bad as it seems.