Saturday, May 5, 2012

Graduation Day

Today is a special day for the Geneva College class of 2012.
Today is graduation day.
Today is the day that true adulthood begins and the protective bubble of college life comes to a close. It is the next step towards independence. It is scary and exciting all in the same breath.
Some graduates will go on to graduate school - prolonging the inevitable self-reliance that makes even the most self-assured shake in their boots - and others will strike out in the job market while still others will move back in with Mom and Dad.
I should be excited for the grads. They accomplished something great! Four years of studying and focusing toward a goal has paid off for them. They have a diploma. They have achieved what they set their minds to.
But, even though I know I should be congratulatory, I feel melancholy. I was the Geneva College class of 2012. I went to Freshman orientation, studied for tests in the student union, lived in the college dorms and trudged through blizzards in the dead of winter to make it to class on time. For two years I was right there with them, pushing forward to this very day.
Then I left.
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change the course my life has taken. Leaving Geneva was the right move for me and I don't regret it. Yet, I feel a tinge of sorrow when I think about the goal that I didn't achieve and the degree that hangs in the balance, unfinished.
At some point everyone will look back on a something in their life and wonder what could have been had a decision been made differently. What would have happened if I would have never left Geneva? Would I be standing on that stage with my classmates in a cap and gown receiving a diploma with my name on it? But, if I didn't leave for my health and for a engagement ended, would something else have deterred me from ever completing my education?
That is the thing about our choices, second guessing them does no good. We are all stuck living with the turns in the road we made. Looking back and pondering the other direction is only conjecture.
Robert Frost put it better than I ever could....

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.        15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Poetry has never been my forte. In elementary school I remember an assignment where we had to write our own poem. Immediately I was overwhelmed. I had no idea where to begin. The work that followed was embarrassing to say the least. Some students proudly read their poems aloud. With palms sweating, I prayed the teacher wouldn't decide to randomly call on me. Funny, I don't remember if she did or not. But I do remember that feeling of inadequacy and incompetence. Sometimes it is our deepest emotions that stick with us the most, not the circumstance's outcome.
But there is something about this poem that makes me love poetry. Maybe because Robert Frost puts into the words a beautiful sentiment that is true of anyone who has ever made a decision that looked unconventional. Going to college after high school is the expectation in today's society. If you don't go to college you are a bum or a slacker or both plus lazy. If you drop out of college you are a bum, slacker, lazy and a failure. Yay for the drop outs!
Listen to society and your self-esteem can take a real blow.
Listen to Robert Frost and you can see the beauty in veering down the less taken path. So many people might leave college vowing to return - just taking a "gap year" to explore the world and know thyself better. But of course, they say, they will return. I know this reasoning well.
Why must we commit to getting back on the road we left? Why make such a decision without finding out where that less traveled road leads first?
I thought I was taking a gap year too and I said I would return to school. Now, I'm not so sure. This road has had so many more turns and curves then I ever imagined. It looked quite clear cut and well groomed in the beginning but, as the forest deepened, the trail became much more twisted then I ever imaged.
So time to be honest: I may never return to that original path. I may never walk onto a platform in a cap and gown. I say this with a sigh and a faint hint of regret. But the path I'm on is leading to another path. Truth be told, I don't even know if I could get back to that original road even if I tried.
But let me reassure you that this path is making all the difference for me. It is growing me and teaching me in ways no classroom ever could. Literature and philosophy aren't being learned from a textbook. They are learned from the daily interaction with the buzzing and bustling world. There are no written tests with a sixty minute time limit. Each moment is a test. Will I walk in obedience to God in the mundane moments and in the midst of trials? This curriculum isn't found in any course catalog.
For some, graduation day is the path they are meant to take. Others are called to travel another road.
And that makes all the difference.

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