I used to think that when I made it to my college commencement, I would be gleaming, incredibly smart and insightful, decorated with the accomplishments of my past four years of study. The truth is, I’m not the valedictorian, or summa cum laude, or Grand Poobah.
I haven’t discovered the cure for cancer or landed my dream job yet. I’m still a student, lacking life experience and infinite wisdom. I’m green enough to still be living at home and naive enough to pursue a career as a Hispanic, female director after graduation. And then there’s this year’s Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences theme, “Life and Death”. And I’ve had to wonder; what does a 20-something-year-old college student know about life and death?
Celebrities have taught us that you only live once, and we salute their insight by tattooing “YOLO” onto our bodies and shouting it as a precursor to stupid, reckless actions.
But what do we really know about life? I know what it is to live, to be young, to stand atop my mere 21 years of existence and look out at the seemingly endless expanse of life ahead of me. I remember reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” in high school and relating to the main character’s description of youth, as he said, “In that moment, we were infinite.” And that’s what many of us feel on the cusp of graduation: infinite.
And what about death? In the summer before my junior year of college, my friends from high school planned a girls’ night out to say goodbye before we each went back to our respective schools. My friend Amy coordinated everything, as she always did. If it weren’t for her, most of us wouldn’t have kept in touch after high school.
I remember being busy that night; classes were starting in a few days and I had a lot to do to prepare. When Amy texted me, asking me if I was coming, I told her I couldn’t make it. I also told her to have fun and that once football season rolled around, I would visit her at the University of Florida. A few days later, she went back to Gainesville, and, several days before the start of classes, she passed away in her sleep. Quickly, coldly, death entered into my life’s vocabulary. This was the first time that someone I knew, someone I was friends with and so close to in age, died.
I share this juxtaposition of life and death because I imagine that many readers can relate. Pulling an all-nighter to finish a research paper may feel like a matter of life and death. Getting that job or internship after graduation, especially for anyone supporting a family, feels like a matter of life and death. Ladies wearing high heels at the commencement ceremony, walking across the stage without tripping, can be a matter of life and death. And for some of us, maybe most of us, who have lost friends and loved ones like Amy, you know that everyday is a matter of life and death.
As a soon-to-be college graduate, we may not have an endless wealth of experience, despite what our resumes say. We may not be weathered by age, but we have tasted life. We may not have faced death, but we have felt its sting. As we prepare to start the next phase of our lives, knowing a thing or two about matters of life and death, I encourage you to consider who and what you live for. Because life is fleeting and death can come like a thief in the night.
At commencement, we lay to rest a season of our lives and welcome in a new one. As we do so, let’s remember the matters of life and death that have brought us here and welcome this new beginning with open arms.