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You would think that an event that happened eight years ago wouldn’t be such an issue today…

January 11, 2012, 1:58 AM

And tonight I’m losing sleep over it, and I feel that I need to unload. You may recall that, back in 2003, I deliberately did not attend my college graduation. At the time, I wrote about how I planned to not attend on the Main Page, which carried an article at that time. And since then, the whole thing has come back to haunt me time and time again. My mother and I still occasionally get into arguments about the matter, even eight years later. The arguments only last a few minutes and always end in stalemate, but it’s kind of annoying to have to rehash. I want to finally bury the issue. So if you’re thinking this is going to be a “happy” Journal entry, skip down to the next one, because this is a tale of things losing meaning and my losing control over my own destiny.

My whole thing when it comes to things done in my honor is that if I can’t control what’s going on, I don’t want to have any part of it. What’s the point of doing something in my honor if I don’t get any input into it, right? And I really got soured on awards ceremonies and things early on.

Back in spring 1996, I was a freshman in high school, and doing quite well, I suppose, having managed a 3.75 GPA (for whatever that’s worth) for my second semester classes (we were on a semester block schedule). For my grade-A performance in Spanish class, I was invited to the Stuarts Draft High School academic awards ceremony. So I got my little certificate for doing so well in Spanish class. Woo hoo. So instead of celebrating my accomplishments as a family after that, my parents decided to pick a huge fight with me before we even got home about why I wasn’t involved in more extracurricular activities. I was in Spanish club as a freshman, and that was basically it. Maybe they had a point, but I really didn’t appreciate how they basically stomped on my achievement and turned what should have been a happy occasion into one that I still get angry and upset over whenever I think of it. I don’t have the certificate anymore. I probably threw it away, and just as well – it was worthless to me.

Then as a sophomore in high school, it came time to order class rings. These were highly customizable, and you could get all manner of styles and designs for your ring. Who picked out my ring? My mother – over my objections. I wanted to pick out all of the features on my ring. My mother wanted my high school ring to look a certain way, citing that they pulled her high school ring out of a box and they all looked the same, and that mine should look that way, too. This is my class ring:

 

 

The only thing I had any input in on that ring was the “1999” on top of the stone, and the computer on the side. I specifically did not want “Cougars” and the cougar mascot on there, and that was put on there over my objections. Same with the maroon stone. My mother wanted the ring to represent where I went to school, thus the inclusion of the athletic program’s mascot (I took no ownership in the Stuarts Draft cougar, as it only served as a distraction from more serious academic pursuits), and the maroon color had similar negative connotations to me for the same reason. Then the computer panel that I actually got to pick (only after much discussion), I wish I hadn’t picked it. You see, just because I was smart enough to actually figure out how to use a computer vs. just staring at the screen like an idiot got me pegged as a “computer guy” early in life, which is a description that I later grew to resent and that I still haven’t been able to completely shake. Then for the “1999” on the stone, that was stupid in hindsight, but whatever. Because most of the elements of the ring were selected for me, and over my objections, I never really wore the ring. I wore it one day: August 27, 1997, which is the day that we got them, because why not. After that, the thing went in the box and pretty much stayed there, because that wasn’t the ring I wanted. I don’t know why I keep the ring around, but it seems improper to throw it away considering that it technically is jewelry. The ring also isn’t even worth the hassle of selling, because considering that it’s not even real gold, the thing is probably worthless.

Then there was my high school graduation on June 4, 1999. Not knowing any better, I went to the “official” graduation ceremony. And I was embarrassed. Now mind you, I had gotten into college, and so my main goal of high school had been achieved. I took the advanced courses, and did respectably in those classes. However, I graduated without honors. I get to the graduation ceremony, and there were all of these other kids with all kinds of embellishments on their gowns for various things. My graduation gown (that didn’t even fit right) carried no such thing. Here were all of these kids, many of whom had taken the less advanced courses that I could have gotten straight As in effortlessly, with all these cords and things hanging around their necks, and there I was with my ill-fitting graduation gown and looking exactly like the kids who could barely find their behind with both hands, except that I took the upper level courses where getting an “A” was more of a challenge. I was downright embarrassed, but I kept it to myself. My high school graduation was ruined before it ever started, but I went through it rather than walk out because I was being a good boy and going through the graduation ceremony like everyone wanted me to.

Now fast forward a couple of years. As I went through the college experience, I was growing and maturing, and was starting to come into my own somewhat. I figured out more about what I did and did not like, and formed my own opinions. I think it was late second semester in college when I first articulated that I did not want to attend my college graduation when that time came. I honestly didn’t see the value in the ceremony. At the same time, I was also having problems academically. Still pegged as a “computer guy”, I was not doing well as a “Computer Information Systems” major in the College of Business. I had significant problems with the math courses all throughout (as in, over my head from the get-go), and that put a major roadblock in my path. I eventually changed my major from Computer Information Systems to Public Administration. At the time of changing the major, I viewed it as the result of my failing in the math courses and thus a bad thing (but knowing what I now know and about what interests me, Public Administration was the absolute right thing for me to do), but I was able to graduate in my intended year, albeit in the fall vs. in the spring. However, due to the change of major late in my junior year, the emphasis of my college career went from education to simply taking classes to get my degree. If it would get me towards the piece of paper, I would take it, and it didn’t matter what it was. My college education had lost all meaning, going from preparation for a career in whatever to just filling in the holes. Unlike many of my classmates, I didn’t have a big job lined up for when I got out of college. For that matter, considering that my diploma’s actual arrival took me by surprise, I didn’t even quite know when I was graduating.

Considering all of this, and considering that I had come to despise many things about JMU, why would I want to attend another one of JMU’s overblown functions? With my college education having lost much of its meaning, and remembering how embarrassed I was at my high school graduation, I wanted nothing to do with another ceremony. To me, ceremonies were unpleasant things where I was either embarrassed or my accomplishments were trashed. Add to that how I never really thought that I would actually ever graduate, and why would I want to go to a ceremony marking that which I didn’t think I would ever reach? Plus my parents were pushing me to go, even trying to make “walking” a condition of various things, and I was really losing control of my own destiny. My college education had been reduced to doing whatever it took to graduate, and any educational value that I received out of it was secondary to just finishing. I was not happy. Ultimately, my mother picked another huge fight about something or other early on in my final semester of college, and I finally put my foot down. I wasn’t going, and that was final. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Then a couple of months later, I signed and submitted the paper that said that I did not intend to attend, and to leave my name off of the program, thus making it official. That felt very good, as I was finally getting some control back in my life.

When it all boils down to things, you see, a ceremony honoring someone is ultimately for the person who is being honored. When people say that a ceremony is really for one’s parents and relatives, it means it’s all a big dog and pony show for the audience, and that the honorees are secondary to the act itself. And so if a college graduation ceremony in my honor would give me no feeling of closure and no happy ending, but rather cause me great pain, why in the hell would I willingly go through such a thing, especially when I didn’t think it was even real for me in the first place?

I do have a few regrets about the way I ended college. First of all, my mother had to be told very bluntly how things were going to go down, because she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when it came to being told she couldn’t go to a ceremony that I had already officially opted out of. My exact words were, “You are more than welcome to go, but I’m not going to be there.” Secondly, we never celebrated my graduation from college at all. My parents were so into the official ceremony and being upset over my outright rejection of that formality that we never actually celebrated the accomplishment in a way that might have been more meaningful to all involved. I think I would have been satisfied with simply going out to dinner somewhere, but we never did anything. My last day on campus in 2003 gave me some personal closure, taking the last final and then spending time on campus and around Harrisonburg, doing a couple of things I had wanted to do, like going to Glen’s Fair Price and driving around the city, plus my last time eating at D-Hall.

All in all, my college career ended on my own terms for the most part, where I avoided the formalities and did my own thing. The ending was kind of bittersweet. On one hand, I had done it. On the same note, I did manage to go out on my own terms. However, I finished at the cost of having any sort of plan about what I wanted to do after college, and ended up spending a number of years in a horrible job while I figured out where my calling in life was and making that happen. I think I finally got the catharsis that I had long needed on April 18, 2007 when I finally got a real job and could finally pursue my own destiny.

So hopefully this discussion puts an end to the way the whole matter has tortured me over the last eight years. Realize that this whole thing came on as a result of my accidentally encountering someone’s college graduation photos on Facebook earlier in the evening, and it put me over the edge. I really wonder sometimes if the truly lasting effect on me of my college education wasn’t the education or the degree, but possibly a case of post-traumatic stress disorder, because every time I see people’s college graduation photos, it brings back all of these unpleasant memories of all the problems I had in college and how much I would love to just bury much of my college experience, causing me great pain in the process, some occasions more than others. I’m not saying that college was a completely unpleasant experience (I have a whole area of the site that says otherwise), but college was just an amazingly stressful time for me when it probably didn’t need to be, and the final graduation ceremony, considering previous ceremony experience, seemed to be the manifestation of all of this unpleasantness and why I didn’t want anything to do with it.

Web site: Managing Stress During College - I'm pretty sure I fouled that up. So glad that college is over.

Song: Certainly not the JMU Fight Song. I find that song to be amazingly annoying.

Quote: Yes, I'm so glad that the whole college phase of my life is over. And I never did get a college ring. Didn't (and still don't) want one, either.

Categories: Family, JMU, Myself