I’ve always suspected that milestones—or at least the way we celebrate them—are a bit of a hoax. For me, dates that are supposed to mark major turning points in my life, such as my sweet sixteen or entropic eighteen (what, you didn’t celebrate your contribution to the inevitable heat death of the universe?) or high school graduation, tend to fall flat. People talk certain moments up to a level of magic metamorphosis as though in an instant you can become a stranger for which nothing will ever be the same.
It’s for this reason that I’m often not as elated as I think I should be upon experiencing what I’m told are significant occasions. When I stepped off the stage last year at my high school graduation, I felt like something was missing. The feeling persisted as I made my way back to my seat and clung to my admiral blue graduation gown as I unzipped it for pictures.
I’d expected more, but what more meant exactly, I couldn’t say. All I knew was that I didn’t feel any different. I was the same Nicole, just with a glorified tablecloth over my shoulders and mini table on my cap. (Which, I guess, did make me feel different but in a stupid way.)
The problem with placing so much weight on milestones as heralds of immediate and dramatic change is that it rushes you. There’s nothing wrong with regarding graduation as composite of all the individual trials and achievements that shaped you, little by little. But once you look to major events as checkpoints for maturation, you start chasing after the next thing and the next thing after that. And then when you run out of your milestones, you may wonder if it was really so important to always be in a hurry heading somewhere.
High school graduation speeches are invariably extended “life is a journey” metaphors strung together with words like “embark” and “soar” and “success.” That’s hopeful and inspiring but rarely what life actually feels like, at least in my experience. If I were to give a graduation speech this year, my metaphor for life would probably be a set of turbo-speed revolving doors that propel me around on account of their constantly crashing into my ass.
I mean, isn’t life already intense enough as is? Why goad it further by imposing direction where it doesn’t necessarily exist?
One year out of high school, I’ve learned that change and growth aren’t necessarily linear or even sudden. I wanted college to make me a different person; it did and didn’t. I made discoveries about myself that I already knew. Things got much better while at the same time becoming much worse. I progressed and regressed in all directions. Drastic turning points and daily experiences built on each other. I grew so much (especially horizontally) yet am still recognizable.
I know freshman year of college is also a widely regarded milestone for change in that people whom you last saw at graduation generally expect you to become a transformed being by their next sighting. Case in point: my mom hadn’t seen one of my high school friends for a while, and yesterday I got back from this friend’s party. The first question Mom asked was whether this friend had changed any. “Is she any different?”
How could I say?
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