Congratulations, Graduate! You’ve earned this shiny new diploma over years of coursework, presentations, and crying in your professor’s office about that C-minus. It’s time to commemorate with a ceremony, some vanilla sheet cake, and sweet tea. You spent $120 on a cap and gown, and now you’re ready for graduation. All four hours of it.
In the weeks leading up to graduation day, you envisioned yourself stepping up to the fern-laden stage, receiving your diploma from the dean (shake with your right, accept diploma with your left), and descending down the steps back to your seat. You have almost certainly worried about tripping. Remember the time you ran into your T.A.’s door on the way out? Yep, you’re totally going to be the one who trips on the graduation stage.
Well, Clumsy Clara, there’s good news for you. Even if you do trip, it’s not the end of the world. All of your colleagues are nervous about stumbling too. If I’ve learned anything in my short time on Earth, it’s that no one cares if you make a fool of yourself. You probably won’t trip though. Really. Just walk like you’ve been walking for the past few decades and you’ll be fine.
There are many worse things that could happen on graduation day than a silly little fall. So, enjoy your well-earned day and cross your fingers that they don’t happen to you.
1. You show up too hungover
How easily we go from two celebratory cocktails to 45-second keg stands. After all, graduation is the culmination of a ton of hard work. You deserve to let loose.
However, even if you might deserve every one of those shots, try your best to remember that on the day of the ceremony, you’ve got to show up early. Like, painfully early. Your cap needs to be securely fastened to your aching head. You need to make sure your gown isn’t backwards on that sore body of yours. Maybe you should shower beforehand as well.
Listening to speeches, especially if your ceremony is held outside under the bright, bright sun, is not going to be enjoyable if you’re dehydrated and hungover (author’s note: take it from someone who has made this grave mistake). Do yourself a favor and postpone the partying until after you’ve walked across the stage.
2. Uncle Bob makes a pass at your friends
If you send graduation announcements out, you’ll be rewarded with some sweet cash money. But, you will also have kinfolk come to town. If you’re lucky enough to have polite, erudite relatives, good for you. Enjoy the cucumber sandwiches.
But if your aunts, uncles, and cousins are on the unpredictable side, godspeed, my friend. Be very careful that you keep your classmates away from your inappropriate uncle, if possible. You have worked years to make friends with your intellectual peers in an academic setting. Today though, universes collide. Hint: If Uncle Bob starts talking little too close to your cute study buddy, it’s not to discuss theorems or doctrines.
3. Your ex is the valedictorian
Wherefore art thou, Karma? When your ex is the valedictorian speaker, you have to listen. For ten minutes. There is no escape.
Maybe she caught your eye the first week of classes. She was so cute the way she tabbed her notes. You asked her to study over coffee in an obvious attempt to make her more than a friend. It worked. You dated for a while, ate meals together on campus, and shared what you learned in class each day. But then she was over it and cut you off. And you had to see her on campus every day. Ouch.
Now she’s standing at the podium, beaming with pride. The dean introduced her, calling her “among the brightest.” You wonder if she is picturing the audience naked during her speech. Is she picturing you naked? You want to text a snide remark to your friend while she talks.
However, in these situations, it’s best to not comment. Congratulate her on her GPA if necessary. No one looks good scowling in a cap and gown.
4. You can’t find your family after the ceremony
There’s something profoundly sad about achieving one of the biggest accomplishments of your life and then not being able to find your family to celebrate afterwards. You’re just a lost puppy with a diploma.
When you don’t see your relatives after a quick scan of the crowd, you walk in a circle around the ceremony space; clockwise, and then counter-clockwise. You see your classmates running to their parents’ embraces. It’s all of the scenes from Love Actually happening at once around you. You check your phone 1000 times. Maybe, you hope, your family is around the corner with the biggest bouquet there ever was?
Nope, nowhere to be seen. So, you walk back to the car. Here you find your family, waiting for you. You whine, “Where were you guys?!” They are tired from the speeches. Anticlimax: silent car ride home.
5. Your outfit is see-through/too short/generally inappropriate
Sometimes when you are the center of attention, being heralded with congratulations, you feel like hot stuff. And you are! So you slip on your cutest outfit for graduation day.
The problem is, your cutest outfit is better to wear to bars than to family gatherings. The outfit you should have worn would have been appropriate for playing Rummy with your little cousin or helping your dad with the barbecue smoker. But the outfit you chose to wear is actually only appropriate in Vegas. And you’re stuck in it.
Solution: keep your robes on all day. Will you look like a wizard? Yes. But it’s infinitely better than tugging at your clothes.
6. You’re short a credit hour
This may be the worst thing that can happen today — embarrassment, disappointment, and anger all rolled into one. See, last semester you signed up for classes like a champion. You had the system down. You expected to graduate with exactly what was required of you. Nothing more, nothing less.
You show up to the graduation ceremony and get in line, right where your name falls alphabetically. But wait. There is no seat for you. You, poor soul, did the math wrong. Now, you’ve got new summer plans, and they entail one g-d classroom hour. So close, yet so far.
7. You don’t have an answer for, “What’s next for you?”
On the one hand, this question can be liberating. You don’t know what you’re doing tomorrow, much less next month. When family friends ask, you reply wide-eyed and optimistic. You can do anything you want! The whole world is your oyster and you can take any road, Robert Frost.
On the other hand, this question can be soul-crushingly bleak. Oh God, what are you going to do tomorrow, much less next month? Moving back in with your parents is starting to seem like less of a post-grad trope and more like your actual life.
Here’s what you do with this dilemma on graduation day: Don’t dwell on it. For now, celebrate. And when people ask you this question, fake it like, I’ve got this. Widen your eyes and smile because you’re young, confused, and you can do anything you want! You graduated. That’s something to be proud of.