How Listening to a Young Zac Efron for 2 Hours Helped Me Come to Terms with Graduation

I’m currently sitting alone in my dorm room in tears and wondering how exactly I got here. You see, I do not cry. It is just not something I do very often. Perhaps this makes me emotionless. More likely, however, I like to think that my tears are saved for particularly intense occasions and I promise you, this present moment does not embody an “intense occasion” at all.


On the contrary, I was watching one of the most light-hearted movies I can think of: High School Musical 3. The High School Musical film series was and still is one of my favorite pick-me-ups on a bad day. There is comedy, singing, and a young Zac Efron; clearly not much to complain about. I’ve watched each of the movies at least ten times over the years and each time I delve in, I get an instant smile on my face. Oddly enough, this time around I traded in my smile for a large box of tissues.

I am graduating from Notre Dame in May. It’s something I tell other people I am excited for when they ask, but it’s also something I’ve refused to let myself think about for too long … until today. Yes, today I allowed myself to sit with my feelings on the matter for the first time and, instead of the excitement I have been telling everyone I am feeling, I became sad, anxious, and nostalgic for the past three and a half years. How has time gone by so quickly?


It seems like only yesterday I was sitting in the JACC listening to Erin Hoffman Harding give her infamous “Welcome to campus, now prepare to struggle every day for the next four years” speech. In the midst of the cluster that was Welcome Weekend, I remember thinking that four more years of school seemed like an infinite amount of time, but having almost completed my undergraduate education, I can assure you, four years is relatively short.


Sure, there have been some rough times and weeks that I thought would never end, but for every single one of those moments, there has been one that I wish I could have relished in for just a little bit longer. College has not exactly been what I expected it to be and while freshman year Jess was disappointed with her reality, senior year Jess is ecstatic.


Things have not gone the way I planned, but that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? Plans are boring in the grand scheme of things. I’d much rather just go with the flow and be present. Don’t get me wrong, this methodology has, on more than one occasion, gotten my heart pumping at a much faster rate than it should be, but things have a funny way of working out at the end of the day, even if it’s not what you originally wanted.

More than anything, this is what I think brought me to tears today while watching High School Musical 3. This movie, though discussing high school seniors, helped me to reflect properly on my four years at Notre Dame and in doing so, I allowed myself to feel all of the emotions I had been withholding for the past six months. While I am sure that the waterworks will return, I am confident that in the days leading up to graduation, I will be ready to walk across that stage and receive that diploma. That said, I have four more months to spend educating myself and spending time with all of the people who have made an impact on my university experience. By watching this movie today and sitting with my honest thoughts, I have opened myself up to be more appreciative of my last lasts here on camps.

After all, it is “Now or Never”. I may have more than 16 minutes left to create “A Night to Remember,” but I don’t want to wait until senior week and realize that I have wasted my time. I want to appreciate every second I have, “Right Here, Right Now”.


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Images 1,2,3 and 4 (provided by author)