Commence the Commencements!

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Close on the heels of prom, we move on to commencement season, so break out your heavily-creased polyester robe and gold tassels! This week, with so many people in our communities receiving diplomas, we explore the topic of graduation! 

Mary Margaret

Does anyone truly delight in graduation ceremonies?

PHD recipients? (woohoo! making good on my $600 investment in this Harry Potter robe and regalia I hauled out from the back of my closet!)

I’ve been dragged to all kinds of events and ceremonies in my life– my own, my sisters, my cousins— and truthfully, graduations rank pretty low on my list of fun-filled moments. At least when you sit through your sister’s dance recital, there’s the consolation prize of sequins and an eventual conclusion to the baby ballerina routines. Piano recitals? Less desirable, but still, somewhat entertaining. But, I diverge.

Considering why I almost skipped my own college graduation, ultimately opting in so my parents and grandfather could see me walk, I’ve decided to permit myself a list of grievances. But because I think the Internet too often becomes a mere gripe-fest, I’m also challenging myself to offer some remedies. I present graduation gripes, along with some helpful hints to survive your next ceremony:

The Gripe: Tedious reading of the names. This goes on and on and on… and if it’s your cousins’ graduation, you probably only know him anyway. So really you’re only left with the conscious awareness of your life draining away minute by minute.

The Remedy: Use this time as an opportunity to practice mindful meditation. Clear your mind of everything except the droning. If you’re lucky, inevitable AV problems will make most of the names unintelligible anyway, thereby easier to focus. Of course, if it’s your graduation, perk up, but otherwise, by the time they get to the Westons and Wrights, you’ll hopefully have achieved some sort of transcendental mantra state.

The Gripe: Mispronunciation of names. That’s right! You’ve made it through years of hard work! Your whole family drove cross state to sit in this football stadium, shirts and dresses sticking to their backs, all so they could hear YOUR name announced! And… the reader didn’t go through the list to make sure they had a grasp on any unfamiliar or unique names. It’s difficult, I know, but trust me school faculty, there are ways of learning how to say these student’s names.

The Remedy: See above remedy…your peaceful meditative bliss will hopefully shield you from over-annoyance that your classmates (especially those of other cultural backgrounds) haven’t been given greater respect in this moment intended to honor their accomplishments.

The Gripe: Wanting to sit with your friends, yet ending up on the opposite side of the field because none of them have a last name alphabetically close to yours.

The Remedy: No brainer- use this as an opportunity to talk to a classmate you don’t typically engage with. What will they miss about school? Where are they going next?

The Gripe: The inevitable platitudes and hackneyed quotes we’ve heard a thousand times. Would you like to inspire us with a little passage from Dr. Seuss ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go?” Yes, do go on.

The Remedy: Nope, nothing doing, Just deal with this one and buckle up for some Winston Churchill inspirational passages!

Truthfully, I’m nostalgic when I witness students clutching their cardboard hats and exuding their Graduation-Commencement Aura, remembering that particular feeling around this celebratory/fearful/proud/anxious moment. We use the words graduation and commencement interchangeably, though they aren’t precise synonyms. We graduate and receive our degrees but we also commence something; we finish and we begin! Few moments in life give us such a decisive sense of closure and possibility as completing school, so for all my griping, I think it’s actually incredibly valuable to mark moments and occasions in life. So go to your own graduation. But if you can get out of that other one you are supposed to attend? Yeah, maybe do that.


“Now you’re on your own. Don’t screw this up.”

If the topic is graduation, I have to share Rhett & Link’s Graduation Song. Because if you just graduated high school, why aren’t you scared?

Just kidding, you don’t have to be scared. Well, not too scared.

My freshman year at Mercer I had to take a course called Scientific Inquiry, which was about, like, thinking like a scientist I guess? And how to apply the scientific method to real-world scenarios or something? The professor was an upbeat, middle-aged computer scientist who commented too publicly and enthusiastically on the “brightness” of my smile. But he also said something a few weeks into the course that really helped me understand what college was about, what I was meant to be doing there, and what might lie ahead.

It was something like this:

High school is for algebra and grammar. College is for learning how to learn. Graduate school is for becoming an expert in your field, and PhD programs are for you to add something new to the world’s collection of knowledge.

College is for learning how to learn. Partly he meant that college is for learning how to study, so that whatever you need to learn in your future, you’ll know how train your brain. That could be learning some new software or technique in your future career, it could be learning to understand a complicated medical diagnosis for yourself or a loved one, it could be learning about how to save for retirement.

But partly he meant something much bigger, too. College is for learning how to learn – how to observe, how to interpret, how to question, how to challenge, how to engage with the world and all of the diverse ideas and ideologies in it. How to find wisdom, and knowing where to look.

My advice to anyone going off to college is to learn how to learn. Study whatever makes you feel you’re fulfilling that goal, whether it’s English, like I did, or psychology, anthropology, African American studies, economics or ancient Greek. I know you need a job after you graduate, but for most entry-level jobs, there’s no major out there that will make you hireable. So choose something “impractical” if you makes you a better thinker and a better global citizen. And do some good summer internships with real work experience and you’ll be fine.

My husband likes the old adage that a wise man knows what he does not know. So go out and learn to learn so you can keep learning. Maybe you’ll go on to grad school and you’ll come to really know something. Maybe one day you’ll teach the world something new. But wherever life leads you, if you’ve learned to learn, you’ll be okay.

You’re on your own. Good luck!


In 2014, Jim Carrey gave the Commencement address at the Maharishi University of Management. (The Maharishi and the form of meditation, TM or transcendental meditation, he developed and even Carrey himself each have their own fascinating background and baggage that I would consider separately from this speech)

Part of me wants to post a link to his speech and leave it at that. Carrey’s speech is so vulnerable – he asks questions like “would people still like me if I wasn’t being ridiculous?” It had never occurred to me that a man who would talk through his butt on camera might worry about what other people thought of him. Apparently, he has insecurities, too.

The line that has stuck with me, and continues to echo in my mind when I want to give up and “get a real job” is this:

“I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which is that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”

You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.

Owning a small business has been the most terrifying undertaking of my life. For the first year that we were in business, either my husband or I would have what we came to refer to as “the Monday Meltdown.” One of us would become irrationally convinced that we were doomed to failure. I would ask if I should just give up on this and apply for graduate school or go get a real job. My husband would listen. We’d think about it. We’d agree to give it a week, go back to work, and the feeling would pass for another week.

I constantly second guessed whether teaching Martial Arts – a career that I only had the courage to enter because I entered the job market during the Great Recession and I hadn’t been able to get a “real job” – was good enough for me. After all, I had graduated from Vanderbilt University (ranked #15 in the Nation in this year’s US News and World Report) magna cum laude with a double major. If I could do that, I could do anything. But…if I could do anything…why would I do this?

But Jim Carrey’s advice rang so true: You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love. He goes on to say, “so many of us choose our path based on fear disguised as practicality.” It’s true. On those days when I would feel consumed by fear, I just longed for the security of a paycheck where it was someone else’s job to face the bank account.

But as I saw layoffs, industries become obsolete and people replaced by robots, I realized – maybe the real risk was in believing that getting a “real job” was more secure than owning my business.

Would giving up on my little business really help? Should I go ahead and give up because I was afraid of failing? Because I was afraid my job title wasn’t impressive?

I’ll leave you with one of his final thoughts. One that has given me the courage to continue in the face of fear:

 “You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world. You will only ever have two choices. Love and Fear, and don’t ever let Fear turn you against your playful heart.”

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