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The Five Stages of Graduation Grief

Calendars are marked, dinner reservations are made and degree audits finally have all plus signs. Graduation is fast approaching.

For every graduating senior, leaving Happy Valley is bittersweet.  No matter how many wish to turn back the clock to freshman year, the weekend of May 5 will come, and tassels will be turned.

If you’re sad about graduating, don’t worry.  You’re not alone.  Coming to terms with becoming an alumnus is a process.  Before accepting graduation as reality, students in their final semester must grieve the inevitable loss of being a Penn State student.  Seniors throughout Happy Valley are working their way through the five stages of graduation grief. 
Step 1:  Denial and Isolation
Let’s go back to the start of the semester.  The soon to be graduate hits the “Intent to Graduate” button, and then proceeds to immediately delete the confirmation email.  After all, intending to do something is different from actually following through.  Then the future graduate proceeds to delete every Career Services notification that filters into her inbox—this is a senior in denial. 

Isolation is also common during step one.  The isolated senior may withdraw from friends and family outside of the Happy Valley bubble.  This includes ignoring all calls from home in order to avoid the inevitable question of post-grad plans. 
Step 2:  Anger
But there comes a time when denial just doesn’t work anymore.  This a time when the cap and gown sign taunts the senior from the student bookstore window and Penn State alumni stickers and apparel lurk at every turn.  A senior in phase two lashes out at parents and professors.  She now accepts those calls from home for the sole purpose of assaulting the receiver with, “why can’t you just pay for grad school?”  Teachers also must beware the angry student.  Every poor grade or challenging assignment will become an argument.   
Step 3:  Bargaining
Once the anger subsides, a senior begins to bargain.  This stage includes frequent trips to the advising office and countless hours googling majors available at Penn State.  A senior in bargaining phase will seriously consider picking up a third minor to stay for one more football season.  In this stage, adding an art history minor to an engineering degree makes perfect sense. 

A bargaining senior may also relive the past and think of classes she could have failed or dropped to extend her graduation date.

If only a C wasn’t considered a passing grade in Chem 110. Sigh. 
Step 4:  Depression
 When negotiation skills just don’t cut it, a senior enters depression.  A depressed senior uses escapism to avoid thinking about post-grad life.  Some common means of distraction are long hours downing long island iced teas at Café 210 or watching marathon episodes of mindless television.  Sometimes groups of depressed seniors will spend the afternoon combining these activities.  Drink every time The Situation brings home a grenade.    
Step 5:  Acceptance
But, there will come a day in every senior’s life when she realizes that graduation is really happening.  On that day, the bookstore will look a little brighter, almost inviting.  She will buy her biodegradable cap and gown, and suddenly a weight will be lifted.  In this stage a senior will finally accepted graduation and realize that life will go on after college. Getting a college diploma is one of many exciting milestones a senior has to look forward to.  In the final stage, a senior will celebrate the culmination of the best four years of her life, and the endless possibilities in the years to come. 
So, graduating seniors need not fret.  While your time at Penn State may be coming to an end, the lessons learned and the friendships made will last well beyond any move-out dates.  The class of 2012 will be back, for every football game, holiday and Blue and White weekend. So if you’re graduating, enjoy these last few weeks as an undergraduate, but keep in mind that the Penn State spirit will stay with you no matter where you go.
Congratulations to the class of 2012!