First of all, they don’t tell you that you won’t remember the ceremony.
You won’t remember all the things the administration probably wants you to etch in your memory, like the name of the special guest speaker, or even the achingly slow trek across the stage to stiffly shake hands with the president and smile awkwardly at a flashing camera. You won’t even recall how many people cheered for you (even though they specifically asked the audience to remain silent until the end).
What you will remember is the last look you’ll have at your apartment, dorm, or house, where you played Cards Against Humanity until 3 a.m. with your roommates two Sundays prior. You’ll remember the bizarre feeling of standing in a bare room where your hand-painted canvases used to hang, wondering if maybe you just concocted the past four years in your mind.
You’ll remember the previous night’s outing with your best friends, at which all of you collectively pretended that it was just another Friday night and blatantly ignored the inevitable. You’ll remember the songs you blasted in the car, the windows rolled all the way down because it was finally feeling like summer and the sinking sensation in your heart that replaced that usual end-of-finals exuberance.
It will be hard to repress remnants of the dull pain that came with walking across campus toward the ceremony, wishing desperately that your uncomfortable formal shoes were replaced with your usual dirt-smudged Chacos. You’ll remember wishing that you were just on your way to study in hammocks with your friends, or about to squeeze into the backseat of a friend’s car for an impromptu run to get breakfast food at midnight.
Of course, you’ll even remember passing that bench behind the library where you had your cringe-inducing first kiss with a campus crush—which happened to be the same place you called your mom to cry about your broken heart and later giggled over the whole cliché ordeal with a classmate-turned-best friend.
In fact, the library will be an entity you never thought you’d miss, but will anyway; you’ll recall repressing unwelcome tears when you glanced at the hulking brick building that hosted countless “study groups” (that always dissolved into chattering about the new Marvel movie or a meeting regarding Hogwarts house assignments).
Yeah, you’ll probably forget the grade you got on your final, final exam (at least, you will in time). What will be impossible to forget is the very last handshake with your favorite professor; despite the all-nighters you suffered through to get to that point, you’ll be thankful for how far this school brought you (are you really the same person who moved into that cramped freshman dorm four years ago)?
You’ll remember how you were slightly enraged when you were forced to separate from your friends before the ceremony. It felt wrong to exit college without the people who helped you survive it beside you.
The memory of stepping onstage yourself will probably be a bit blurry, and not just because your family snapped a thousand grainy photos of it happening. Watching your friends cross the stage with beaming grins, however, will forever shine in your memory, because you know just how hard they worked and how many sacrifices they made to get there. They’re not just more names in a program of college graduates, they’re people you shared secrets with during late night gossip sessions, who trash-talked you during a match of Mario Kart, and who you witnessed grow so much over the course of four years. They’re people who called you out when you were being dramatic (which was, admittedly, quite often) and who gifted you with the most motivating pep talks you’ve ever heard when you suffered a bad grade or a bad hair day.
Finally, you’ll remember driving away from the place that has somehow become, and always will be, home. You’ll remember the weird attachment you have with the Walmart you passed on the way to the highway because you helped your friend find last-minute dress pants for an interview there once, or maybe just because you never thought you could have fun grocery shopping, but always did as long as your roommates were there.
I guess, in the end, that’s because it doesn’t really matter whether your eye makeup ran during the ceremony or whether you looked kind of—okay, very—dorky in that hat. What matters is that home can be found in a cramped dorm room or a crowded car or a grocery store aisle and that wherever it was for you, you found it. And, although life and time might lead you in an amazing new direction, a true home like that never really leaves you.