Alumni. I’m sure the word sends shivers down our spines, especially those of us who are closing in on the finish line.
We will walk across a stage, we will accept a rolled up piece of paper, we will toss a hat in the air, and then, like that viral National Geographic video titled “Tiny Ducklings Leap from Tree” we will leap into the open air…and then realize, to our horror, that we cannot fly as we see the murky water below us growing ever nearer, and we will rapidly start praying that our first immersive swimming lesson is successful.
At least, that’s how I’ve been picturing graduation, but I think some people have parties or something like that, too. However, I think the main point is, whether or not we’re excited for what comes after graduation, there’s also a fair amount of fear and anxiety growing inside of us.
Whenever I’ve heard people talk about graduation, there’s the immediate question that follows: What comes next? And to be honest, I think there’s another question which is usually not voiced, but I think many of us may have thought at least once during our time here: Did we make the right choice? For instance, it’s easy to look at the people surrounding us and recognize their strengths, achievements, and overall success, and to then wonder if we should have made the choices they made, rather than the choices which lead us on what feels like a much more uncertain path. However, I think a great deal of this anxious uncertainty stems from the fact that whenever we are asked about our college career, especially as we close in on graduation, we are more often asked about what the future has to bring, rather than what the past has already established.
What I mean to say is that we have been through a lot. Whether we have been here for the traditional four years, or much shorter, or much longer than that, we have all faced so much that I don’t think we would have ever dreamed to have faced, especially not at this point in our life. Some of these challenges came directly from our education, but so many more experiences happened outside of this University, experiences that, whether or not we wanted to, we brought back with us to this campus. We have faced countless failures, it’s true, but the fact that we’re still here shows that we’ve overcome just as many of those failures, and that we’ve been blessed with many triumphs as well. Some triumphs have been known campus wide, some have only been shared with a few, and some triumphs only we ourselves know about. These are the triumphs which I think we should be reflecting on now.
I’ll admit, when I first thought of writing an article about alumni, I instantly imagined an article talking about what is to come and how we can possibly discern that future, but I don’t think we can face the future until we have a firm grasp of the past. If we look at these past years spent as students, we will remember the relationships we made and the relationships we lost, the laughs and the tears which came without warning, the hope and the fear that swelled in our chest all at once, the confidence and the insecurities felt when we stepped out onto campus, but most of all, we should remember how many times we persisted, even if, in the moment, it felt like we were giving up. We should remember those days when we felt at our absolute lowest, when we felt the greatest despair, but we continued to walk down this path anyways. It was never in the same way, and it was never by the same means, but we have all done this. We have all made the choice to persevere.
The fact of the matter is, we have not been existing in an easy-going limbo, waiting for our true life to start when that first job application is accepted, or we hear that distinct calling to religious life, or a new family begins. This whole time we have been living according to God’s plan and we have been telling a story that has already filled so many chapters. We have not been sinners on the brink of sainthood, or imperfections on the brink of perfection. We are people who have been struggling and will continue to struggle, as long as we live on this earth, to be the person we are meant to be in God’s eyes. However, a crucial part of discerning who we are meant to be is done by recognizing the people we have already become. Look at your weaknesses and look at your strengths, but overall, look at your journey so far. Think of how you started and how you will be finishing this educational process. Appreciate the right and the wrong choices you have made and, from there, look at how those past choices can guide your future ones. And above all, pray. God knows more than anyone else how this journey has shaped you, and He knows what it has been shaping you for. This part of our life was not one of insignificance.
And so, I would like to say congratulations to those who have graduated, good luck to those who have yet to graduate, and to those who are graduating at the end of this year, I can’t wait to walk that stage with you…and I hope none of us fall walking across that stage…but if one of us has to fall, I hope it’s me. I’ll take a loss for the team.
But in all seriousness, students of Ave Maria University past, present, and future will always be in my prayers because I know how much strength and courage it takes to choose this path, and I know that, whatever happens in our life as alumni, with the help of God, we are prepared to face it.