Gender & Identity, Life

I didn’t walk for my college graduation, and here’s why

A hollow victory, but a necessary one.

Receiving your college diploma is one of the proudest moments of your life. Or, it’s supposed to be. I wouldn’t know, because I didn’t walk for my graduation.

It’s a strange thing for most folks to hear, but I never had the intention of walking. For me, college was a part of going through the motions. Graduation was inevitable.

Perhaps the caliber of my alma mater affected my feelings about the subject as well. It was a normal liberal arts school, where I didn’t have to try too hard to pass with flying colors. If I managed to do my work, I did well. And usually, I did. When it came to my classes in my major, I nary fell below a B+. It was almost an effortless excursion.

Until I had to grow up.

In my junior year of college, I was forced to move out on my own. I had to figure out how to pay rent, work, and go to school full time. There was no way I was giving up my degree in lieu of my new set of circumstances. After a mishap with my financial aid, I was forced to take a semester off, and I worked full time to make up for it. When I resumed school, I was both a full-time student and full-time waitress. That left little time for humanity.

It was hard. I was navigating a semi-long distance relationship, a suddenly short staffed work environment, and almost a hundred pages of reading a week. I sacrificed sleep, eating, and much needed solitary time in order to accomplish my goal: that diploma on the stage.

I thought I was going to fail up until my last week of school. I cried in the middle of class, in the hallways while speaking to professors about my circumstances. They offered me words of solidarity, but it all came down to one thing.

One professor asked me what my support system was.

My answer, truly, was feeble.

My mother had moved to Cincinnati unexpectedly a year prior, then Florida, then back to Cincinnati. She didn’t have enough money to keep her phone on, let alone bridge the trip to southern New Jersey and see me walk. My father lived in Queens, New York, and was suffering through a hip replacement that was having trouble healing. Past that, I felt like I had no one.

I was a commuter. I had graduated from school a year late. I felt like I had no true connection to my school. Just stress, feeling too cold or too warm sitting in desks that were uncomfortable, often listening to professors who knew nothing about me. Those that I had cared about had already moved on with their lives. I would not be graduating with the friends I had cultivated, nor walking for the professors who I had done so much work for.

It seemed pointless, ultimately.

With no bindings to my school, I decided to stay home. Ironically, I was off from work the day I was supposed to graduate. My boyfriend was busy. I was isolated. Alone.

I forced myself off of social media. I could not stand to see people I knew holding up their happy diplomas, the shells to hold paper they’d receive in the mail depicting their accolades. I dove into books. Into video games. Into something immersive that would distract me from the fact that yes, I had accomplished something, but I had no one available to celebrate it with. I acted like it didn’t mean anything, but it did.

It was my choice. It was not one I regret. That didn’t make it any harder, though.

Walking doesn’t mean anything, in my eyes. It’s another thing we are supposed to do. For me, there was no point in sitting for a three hour ceremony, for a school I didn’t care about, with folks I did not know. With no one to bear witness to my accomplishment, sans a boyfriend who lived an hour away, it felt like a hollow spectacle. One I could not be apart of.

So I stayed home, and decided to begin the next phase of my life in a different way: focus on becoming a writer.

  • Gabrielle Smith

    Gabrielle Smith is an Afro-Latina writer based in New Jersey. She holds a BA in Literature with a minor in Africana Studies. She has a passion for topics like intersectionality, mental health, nerd culture and Afrocentricity. When she’s not writing, she can be found harassing one of her cats, frowning at men who tell her to smile, or practicing her evil anime laugh.