Today I attended my high school’s graduation as a faculty member. When I say ‘my high school’ I mean both the high school I teach at and the high school I attended as they are one and the same.
I rather like graduations, even when they’re at their most boring. There’s something very stirring about all the pomp and circumstance–both literally and figuratively. It was cool to stand there in academic robes and my master’s hood and mortar board with all the other faculty. We were a rather impressive show, marching in before the graduates, and I remember being similarly impressed at my own graduation. We marched single file down the aisle and I had a moment where I felt like I was practicing walking down aisles for August, and that weird feeling of having everyone stare at me, even when I was one face in a sea of black robes. I wonder how it will feel when I’m the only face in a white dress?
This graduation felt in a lot of ways like my own graduation–round two. Of course I graduated for the first time fifteen years ago, and very reluctantly. My first run through this high school was magical, partly because I made it this incandescent expression of youth, ignoring hardships. But there was an element of that magic which was very real, a time when I learned to become a different person and when I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. I didn’t want to go forward; I wanted to stay there.
I wanted to stay there so much that when I became a teacher, my first goal was to go back and teach at my alma mater. I achieved this goal far earlier than I thought I would because an opening fell into my lap, but I embraced it with open arms. I settled in to my life as a teacher, imagined myself as Mr. Keating, and thought myself set for retirement.
Now, however, I find everything is changing. I’m leaving again for the Great World–in a very real sense. People think I’m crazy. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had where colleagues act like my resignation is a death sentence. They can’t conceive of the idea that I might want to leave. The truth is I don’t really want to, but at the same time, I know this is the right choice. When I thought the fiance and I would have to spend almost a year apart *after* our marriage, waiting for immigration to process our papers, I was horribly depressed. Despite certain trepidations about leaving, putting my job behind me is not nearly as hard. The moment I made the decision to go instead of wait in marital immigration purgatory, a weight lifted. Nevertheless, colleagues can’t see it. They fret about pensions and money and the job.
It’s not as though I don’t see their point. I’m nervous about leaving my comfortable life behind. I had a cute apartment, a great car, a fantastic job, and I’m giving it all up. But it’s something I’m compelled to do. So once again, I attended the graduation with reluctance.
The best graduations let you look for a message in the speeches, and see this goal post for whatever you want it to be. Today I kept hearing a theme of taking risks. Take risks. Live larger. Carpe diem. Nothing to be gained by staying comfortable and safe.
That’s what I’m taking with me. The first time I left my high school I didn’t want to go. I would have stayed cocooned there forever. But if I had, I would have missed out on my first boyfriend and my first heartbreak. I wouldn’t have had a life changing year abroad in France. I wouldn’t have met my best friend or my future husband.
That’s life. If I stay where life is comfortable nothing changes. If I’m not sad to go then there’s something seriously wrong with my life. But the sadness can’t keep me from going. I always promised myself when I was younger, in high school, that throughout my life I would carpe diem. I could live out Dead Poet’s Society by returning to my alma mater, or I could live out Dead Poet’s Society by seizing the day.
The choice is simple.