I step forward.
The wind whips around me for a second, and then it’s gone.
It was the exact same story the first day I came to Melbourne. A single strong gust of wind greeted me as I stepped out of the airport.
But today isn’t my first day in Melbourne. Today’s the culmination of why I came to Melbourne in the first place.
I came into Australia not knowing too much about the country, and just looking ahead with one singular aim: to work hard for my Masters.
But somehow a life came out of that. I made friends, I joined clubs and I learnt to find a stronger version of myself.
And time, as it always does, slipped past so easily without us noticing, till I realized that the graduation day was upon us.
Despite all the volunteering experience, despite the work experience I received in writing and social media and radio hosting, I was terrified. Graduation always forces your mind to wonder: have I done enough with the time I had?
Regardless of whether I did, it was a wealth of knowledge and experience I received, and I enjoyed every step of the journey.
Still, the looming date of graduation forced me to examine myself. I expelled my emotions in every way I can, from talking to friends, to attempting to condense everything I felt into a single article.
Fortunately I wasn’t alone. Others around me were facing the same insecurities, all asking the same questions: what happens now?
We’re not alone in our thoughts. For those who have graduated, they have the memories. For those who have yet to graduate, they know the day will come soon.
Both sides offer support in different ways, from precious advice to unconditional support to a gigantic group hug so impromptu it touched me.
As I walk through the now-quiet corridors of where I once began my journey, I’m struck with the realization that This Is It.
Everything that I worked towards was to get to this day.
Some people are relieved. Relieved that they are no longer bound by the terms of everything that school entails, from exams to battling the social hierarchy that society puts on the occupation of ‘student’.
Others go on for further study, for various reasons. Some wish to pick up other skills, some decide to strengthen their already-existing skills, and some enjoy it so much they wish to go for another round.
Either way, we come together one last time, for that graduation day. In our heads, it’s perfect rows of graduates throwing teddy bears in the air, it’s romantic with proud parents and gleaming flowers, it’s best friends smiling under perfect weather.
Well the truth is, graduations are just hectic.
Condensed into those precious few hours with a long ceremony in between, there isn’t much time for anything. It’s just rushing from place to place, sometimes attempting to take photos at tourist attractions while friends get lost trying to get to you.
It’s made worse when everyone is wearing the exact same gown and mortarboard, and it definitely was a challenge trying to get through swarming crowds to one particular person.
Why do we put ourselves through that?
Because we are a visual society fond of photographic evidence.
It’s hard to reminisce about someone without a photo. It does matter where you take the photo, and who you take it with. That’s why so many people splurge on exorbitant studio photographs and fly their families overseas.
It is a major milestone that translates into a commodity. It’s not enough to just say “I’ve graduated”, people wish to see the actual photographs for themselves.
And the accessories are just as important. People want to see a picture of you at the ceremony, flanked by your family or a group of friends (better still if everyone wore a gown).
That plus the gown, the hat, the supporting cast of flower bouquets and bears and other paraphernalia that present a full representation that unmistakably says I have graduated.
But with graduation comes goodbye.
There are several people with whom, I have already said goodbye and prepared myself for the probability that I will never see them again.
I mean, yes, Facebook and Instagram exist. We live in a world with Skype, instead of a time where the only method of communication was through letter-writing that would take months to arrive.
But online communications are poor substitutes for face-to-face interactions. A video call can never replace a hug, and a whatsapp message can never adequately express the idiosyncrasies of an individual.
That’s what makes graduations so hard. It brings about the reality that we, who have struggled together for so long, have now come to another crossroads to struggle through: the end of us together.
And all too soon, we have time for only a few precious pictures with friends before it’s time for us to go up the stage.
My palms are gleaming, my knees get a little shaky. I mean, my face will be broadcast to several hundred people in a moment and I don’t get a do-over.
I step forward.
My name is called, and I step up to take the coveted piece of paper that symbolizes all the hard work that was poured into a time span of two years.
But no wait, that piece of paper doesn’t encompass everything. It never could.
For the experience of Uni is far greater than the sum of parts that are written on this piece of paper.
The experience of Uni exists in our memories, in our friendship and in our hearts. The experience of Uni is also made up of the struggle to get here, the disappointment of probably being rejected before getting an acceptance letter, the deliberation of what we should do and learn and love.
The experience of Uni is in the awkwardness of making new friends. And the difficulty in trying to understand something new, whether it’s a culture or a language or just another person’s thoughts and theories. It is in the breakthrough of learning to appreciate someone else’ culture or language, even though it may be so vastly foreign from what we are familiar with.
The experience of Uni is learning to grow into better individuals, physically, mentally and emotionally.
And no piece of paper could possibly ever encompass all of that.
I step forward.
I’m not sure where my next journey will take me, but I’m ready.
Photography by Will Chao Photography.
Share your thoughts with me on your graduation!
– Fari Wu