4 Lessons I Learned From Not Having a Graduation Ceremony: A Reflection by a High School Senior

Every high school freshman dreams of the day they will walk across the famed stage in a long gown, eager for the future that awaits them. A day that is filled with congratulations, heartfelt speeches, and joyful tears. But now, in light of the global pandemic, the many now-seniors wake up to realize that this dream will never become a reality.

I, like countless seniors, was disappointed and saddened by the prospect of not having a graduation. However, for me, not having a “normal” graduation taught me some valuable lessons:

  1. 1. Don’t Take the Small Moments For Granted

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    Throughout high school, I realized the power of social interactions as I went from being socially anxious to a key player on my school’s debate team. I realized that the small conversations, the ones that made my freshman self so nervous, are the ones that I will never get to repeat. I will miss the life stories teachers told during lectures and the mundane conversations we would exchange when I came in to make-up tests. My freshman self was so afraid of ruining these interactions that I avoided them altogether. Now, being deprived of speaking with my teachers one last time during class to make jokes or small talk made me realize how much I took it for granted. I should have cherished these seemingly insignificant experiences when I had the chance. Correcting my twisted version of carpe diem has allowed me to recognize how much more I need to appreciate the little things because, in reality, those are the ones that make the most significant impact.

  2. 2. Worry About Learning, Not About Grades

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    Ever since I started school, obtaining good grades was the final goal for me. For as long as I can remember, report cards measured my self-worth, but it was not until my last semester of senior year when I didn't receive grades, that I realized how ridiculous this notion is. When my schooling moved online, I became excited about what I was learning just because I was learning. I realized that my perspective towards grades was an unhealthy one and that my original obsession with my class ranking and a front-row seat at graduation now meant nothing. My grades should have never bothered me. They should have helped to motivate me to learn more--not make me hate learning and, eventually, school altogether.

  3. 3. Invest More Time in Dreams that Don’t Have Tangible Results

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    Going back to the idea that all graduations are about the gown and the cords, and all of the material things that accompany it, I worked toward this for four years. One could say it defined my high school experience. I specifically followed a challenging academic track throughout high school not just because of its rigor, but also because it guaranteed that I was to be among the first students in my class to graduate--and in a different color gown, might I add. Even though the program ended up being a great fit, I now realize that my main reason for choosing it was entirely unfounded. When I found out I would not have a graduation, I realized that my focus had gone awry without my noticing. I fixated on the “things” I would receive, rather than the experiences I would gain. I now know that the things you can’t see or touch are the real goals that one should strive to achieve. 

  4. 4. Enjoy the Journey & Don’t Be So Focused on the End Result

    There were times throughout high school that I chose to do homework instead of going out with friends, and times when  I went out with “friends” that, as I later realized, turned out to be pretty iffy people. Whatever the case may be, I learned that you regret the things you don’t do more than the ones you do. Although I did not always acknowledge the wisdom in these words, I now see that graduation and the thought of leaving high school behind to become “independent” took up so much of my focus this year that I partially forgot to enjoy the ride. And now, more than ever, it saddens me to think of all of the opportunities I missed to have fun and push myself because, mentally, I had already graduated. I did not appreciate the climb and instead had rushed to the top, forgetting to look back to see how far I had come.

I came to these realizations  while I sat and contemplated quarantine, and I've come to be thankful for the extra time to reflect and cherish all of the amazing--and not so amazing--things that happened during the last four years. If you are reading this and are also a graduate in any stage of life--college, high school, or grad school--whenever you feel down about your graduation, realize that there is so much to be excited about, one of those things being your bright and promising future. So keep dreaming and keep learning because the Class of 2020 is truly going down in history as the one that succeeded “against all hope, despite all odds.”