When I graduated from High School, I was surrounded by family and friends. When we came off of the stage, we ended up in an area (was it backstage?) and started taking pictures of each other. At the end of my College graduation ceremony, when I came off stage, I exited the auditorium into a crowded vestibule, and I was alone. My family had headed outside already, and I had no friends there. I am realizing how much of a difference my friends made the first time around.
Maybe it was silly to walk the stage at age 55, but I wanted the ceremony and the celebration of it all. Pursuing a degree entirely online made it a different experience as well. My fellow graduates Friday evening knew each other. They had met in class, and they cheered each other on. They were hugging, taking each other’s pictures, and they supported one another. I didn’t have that. I had worked hard independently. I knew only two people in the theater (other than my family in attendance). When I first went in, I saw my son’s childhood friend, Mark. He was working at the reception desk in the theater itself. I talked to him, but he wasn’t part of the ceremony. When I got to the cafeteria area where we waited to go into the auditorium, I saw one of my web design teachers, Mr. Miller. I knew him because I had gone on-campus one time to get extra help with understanding a coding assignment and had spent several hours with him. He was there, but he also was not part of the ceremony.
Not having anyone to share the experience with made a huge difference. I talked to the other Interactive Media Design graduates, but I didn’t even catch their names. It was a little awkward, and once they heard I was an online student, I got, “ohhhhhhh, online” and that immediately explained why they’d never seen me before. We hadn’t share in one another’s successes and failures.
The official online graduation was held out of Buffalo, New York (90 miles away from where I live). I could have attended that ceremony instead, and I might have recognized some of the names, but then again having never met my classmates in person, I still would not have known anyone. It also would have been a pain to drive that far (or to ask my family to drive that far) just to graduate with the rest of my “class”. If I had graduated with the other online students, I still would have been alone.
There’s something to be said about shared experiences, though. Ask the four ladies I had dinner with last week. Some of us had not seen each other since High School graduation day in 1977. We still “knew” each other. Our lives have gone in different directions, but we still had a great time at dinner. We still laughed at the same things, and we still had something in common. We’d grown up together. Yes, we’d grown apart, but we weren’t all that different.
I wish I’d had that sense of camaraderie and feeling of shared experiences at my College graduation. It would have made a big difference.