Last night I went out to blow off a little mid-finals week steam. I was accompanied by a few cats who had already concluded their examinations, thusly putting them in considerably higher spirits than me. One of these characters, who we'll call Rrroo, was especially jubilant over the culmination of the last academic term of his junior year. Rrroo was a sight to behold. He was grasping beers by their necks, three at a time, waving them around like a pigeon wringer as he navigated the crowded confines of the local watering hole. As closing time approached, it seemed like he had de-evolved a couple of species into a staggering, sputtering, sweating ape-creature. As we walked towards the door, he got a fevered look in his eyes, shouted, "We can't leave till I find some tail!" then turned and ran back into the shoulder-to-shoulder packed crowd. He emerged later, sans "tail", asserting that he had almost successfully chatted up a babe, but she "was dating some guy that played for the Yankees" so we continued our walk home. Rrroo continued to bounce off the walls (the expression fails considering we were outdoors) as we ambled down the street. When we finally got back to the neighborhood, Rrroo collapsed in the grass of his front yard, ignoring all hazards of broken glass, nails, dirty syringes, rolled around and half-muttered half-shouted to himself, "Senior year, senior year, senior year!"
Now, contrast the enraptured Rrroo with another buddy of mine I saw on the shuttle this afternoon. Like Rrroo, he had just taken his last test of the year. He, however, was a senior and the test didn't only mark the end of his year, but of college altogether. He was not happy. He sat slumped in his seat, floored by the weight of what was happenng. Four years had led him to this moment, and here it was. Instead of the glee of completion, he felt the finality of conclusion.
The differences here can be roundly blamed on the most basic strand of the tragedy of the human condition. We are terminal, we exist on a resolute trajectory, one day turns to another, then it's over. Everything we have ever done ends. Nothing lasts.
When we take up the mantle of anything, we are sending it towards its end. While this doesn't seem like a big deal for the little things like mowing the grass or making a pot of coffee, undertaking an endeavor like four years of college requires a huge emotional investment. This explains the exuberance of Rrroo. He had achieved a goal. He had reached a milestone, he had taken another step towards the end. He had earned his roll in the grass. My friend on the shuttle, though, he was done. The milestone's were over, and the destination had been reached.
We love progress, we celebrate it everyday. We fear conclusion. At conclusion, we retreat, we take a step back, we linger. We aren't ready for the next journey, not after we've come this far and put so much into this one.
So, to all the graduating seniors out there, let me say, with almost zero authority, it's okay to be scared, it's okay to be a little bummed out. But don't forget what you had to do to get here, don't forget what you've done, what you've accomplished, the people you've met and the people you're still with.
I'll see you on the other side.