I found out today that, despite my best efforts, I did manage to pass all my classes this semester, so I will be graduating in a couple of weeks. I actually came very close to dropping out these past few months. Not because of my dislike for Harvard, but as a matter of principle. As I have already explained, I think my degree is worthless. I feel it would be dishonest for me to accept a diploma that I believe represents nothing. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that honesty doesn’t matter when you’re dead, and that, if I dropped out a month before graduating, my mother would hunt me down and kill me with her bare hands. So, cap and gown, here I come. Here are some clichéd, sentimental, and overly moralizing thoughts to mark the occasion (I will put up a sillier take on all this eventually, don’t worry):
Your graduation doesn’t mean a thing. Your family, your friends, the very robes you wear, all are on display to make you believe that it is a special day. That it is the first day of the rest of your life, the day you enter “the real world.” Well, it isn’t. It’s just the day you sit through a bunch of boring speeches and get a piece of paper. A very pretty piece of paper, perhaps, but a piece of paper and nothing more. And that paper, that diploma, is meaningless. Oh sure, it might represent the classes you took, the subjects you studied, who you were as a student, but it doesn’t represent who you are as a person. You can do what you want with it – you can frame it, mount it, laminate it, you can even get really wasted and run it through the shredder – but all these attempts to imbue it with some greater meaning will fail. Because your diploma is just a piece of paper, your robes are cheap rentals, it is just another day, and you are not about to enter the real world. You’re already in it.
The real world isn’t out there, beyond the gates; it’s in here, in our hearts and souls. To borrow a turn from The Wizard of Oz, we’ve had it in us all along, right here in our backyard: we never really left to begin with. I know, I know, I’m being maudlin – but I’m sincere. Look, our generation can’t put on our sneakers without a sense of irony, but, hard as it may be, there are times to put our knowing smirks aside and embrace our vulnerable, true inner selves. That is why I am harping on all this diploma business: because there is no link, no relation, between that inner self and that paper. Your diploma might say, “He graduated,” but it will not say, “He is good,” and that is all that matters. Sure, at one time, a diploma might have meant more. The goal was once unabashedly to mold us into better people. Harvard doesn’t do that anymore. We can no longer count on our teachers to lead us into the light. We have to do it for ourselves. Maybe, for some, that journey is already well underway. Maybe you were lucky, and one of the books for one of your classes touched you, moved you, really got to you, in a way that proper academic style would frown upon mentioning in a final paper. If not, don’t worry. There are so many books left to read. For what I am trying to say is that graduation is not a beginning, it is not an end. It’s just another day in the journey.
To return to the Emerald City, and to the wise words of the Wizard: “Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a diploma.”
Well, in a few days, I will have one, too.