If you’re in grad school, chances are this ain’t your first rodeo. You’ve graduated before (maybe even a couple of times before) and under different circumstances. And, if you’ve been here for years and years, working at the “marathon-not-a-sprint” pace means that graduation might be more akin to crossing the finish line jiggly-legged, dehydrated, and more in the mood to nap than to celebrate. Plus, you may be far away from home, which means that friends, community, and family can’t all make it to the celebration, and your cohort members may not graduate at the same time as you. Ok, this is not a blog post about all of the reasons that you shouldn’t feel celebratory at graduation–I just want to acknowledge that for all of these reasons and more that conjuring up a celebratory feeling at graduation can be complicated. So, my argument is that you should put forth a little extra effort on your own behalf to note what you have accomplished, and I’ve created this a list of things to help you get started!
Now, here’s a pretty big caveat: I’m not graduating, but working at Rackham has given me a front row seat to everything that is happening around graduation, and it’s gotten me excited about the possibilities available for soon-to-be graduates. And, maybe it will get some other not-soon-to-be graduates excited too. I would be fine with that outcome as well.
First, a few words on why I humbly insist that you celebrate (even if you don’t walk at a ceremony):
First of all, self care needs to continue outside of graduate school. Over the years you have spent hammering away at your degree, someone has (hopefully) preached the good word of “self care.” This includes taking time off, saying nice things to yourself, seeking out encouragement or support from your communities. And so I say: why stop those habits just because you’ve graduated? Celebrating graduation is a way for you to self-actualize–a chance for others to say encouraging things to you and a chance for you to say nice things to yourself, too.
Secondly, it’s validation. In my experience, graduate school is difficult in a way that encompasses your whole life: your mental health, your family, your finances… not just your work and your career. Participating in graduation celebrations gives you a space to acknowledge not only that what you have achieved was very difficult, but that you have achieved a great deal.
Finally, graduation is a milemarker. Since I am roughly ¼ literary studies, I feel that symbolism is very important. Maybe you’ve missed a few milestones in grad school: anniversaries, reunions, weddings, births, even funerals–the limited resources and time we have in school can mean you miss some of these things. So do this for yourself: mark the achievement that you made while you were missing out on other things.
Things to do:
1. Participate in a graduation ceremony with one or some of your communities. U-M’s Office of Academic and Multicultural Initiatives hosts Arab Celebration, Black Celeb, Native Student Celebration, and La Celebracion, and the Spectrum Center hosts Lavender Grad. If you are a member of an underrepresented group on campus, I know that networks of support can be vital to survival and success, and these events allow you to celebrate with communities, friends, and mentors who have been close to your graduate experience.
2. Rackham Graduate Exercises is a celebration just for Rackham graduate students, so the attendees, fellow graduates, and speakers will all be attuned to your particular experience. I remember attending a small, departmental graduation at my undergraduate alma mater, and the more personalized experience is one I still reflect on often and fondly. (Make sure you RSVP in time to all of the above. If you’re eligible to graduate at Rackham Graduate Exercise, you should have gotten a notification in your inbox already).
3. Departmental Celebrations. Check with your department to see if they are having their own celebration. If they’re not, check and see if anyone else in your department is graduating, and get together. Justin Bieber is coming to Auburn Hills on April 25th, so, you know… just an idea.
4. Social Media. If you will have already flown the coop by the time graduation rolls around, surf #RackhamGrad, #phdlife, or #gradlife around graduation time for some gifs and live tweets and images, or upload your own. In my humble opinion, .gif confetti feels just as celebratory as real confetti, and clean up is a virtual breeze.
5. DIY Graduation. If none of this is up your alley so far, choose your own moment to celebrate: at the defense, after submitting your thesis, a meaningful holiday or random Friday night… I’m thinking fireworks (which are available throughout the year in Michigan, something I’ve never gotten used to or fully accepted), or a boat, or lots of glitter, or something that will induce the feeling of “yes, this is the good life.” (I feel like because this is the internet I should disclaim a little: don’t bring fireworks to your defense, please. Or bring a boat to your defense. Or bring fireworks to a boat. Practice firework and boat safety.)
6. Take a road trip around Michigan to say goodbye and check off your Michigan bucket list. Take time to occasionally shout, “I JUST GRADUATED” from your window or use some window chalk to draw on your car. (Why should recently married people be the only ones who do that?) Check out some of Jeff Lowe’s posts on the Rackham blog to get some ideas for where to go around Michigan.
7. Nap, but fancily. Are you unconvinced? Are you saying to me right now through the shiny and unfeeling screen, “BONNIE! I’m tired, please don’t make me do this!” Then sleep. It’s ok. But do it with sparkling clean sheets, calming music, your childhood teddy bear close by your side. Make it the most celebratory nap of your life, because you earned it.