Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives. -William Throsby Bridges
So it’s spring again, which means graduation. Graduation brings back memories of school- high school, college, grad school. It brings memories of iconic songs like Green Day’s “I Hope You had the Time of Your Life” or Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)“, of graduation parties, of awkward caps and gowns, of pictures, of hard good-byes, and of illustrious dreams.
I was talking with a friend here in town who has just graduated from college and is preparing to go off to an exciting program at Oxford, England. She dreams of becoming a writer. While listening, I felt ambivalent- the word that has come to characterize my life- equally pulled towards a mixture of joy and sadness. What does she really have ahead of her? I guarantee you it won’t be what she expects.
A few weeks ago I made the mistake of watching Burlesque (a movie about a girl who dreams of making it big as a showgirl) while finally sorting through all of my doctoral applications, interview prep materials, etc. I didn’t get into any of the doctoral programs that I could afford without going into some serious debt, so I will not be getting my doctorate. I watched Christina Aguilera conquer her dreams as they always do in the movies while mourning the loss of mine.
Sometimes I think about the dreams I had when I graduated- getting married, starting a family, getting my doctorate, doing volunteer and non-profit work, becoming the first female president of the United States, saving the world…
I think the thing about getting older is that some of those dreams become less and less reality. When I was in high school I didn’t really think I would be the president of America, but a small part of me still dreamed I would.
With adulthood come bills, responsibilities, families, and inevitable tragedy.
Finances are an enormous obstacle to pursuing our dreams.
Responsibilities hinder us from taking risks.
Marriage and kids limit our freedom.
Tragedy is certain and knocks the wind out of us, causing us to forget our dreams just long enough to remember our humanity.
So what’s left to dream about? How do we send our young graduates out into the grotesque world knowing the struggles and pain they will face? Part of me wants to prepare them for the disillusionment that will come to shatter their dreams like a fist through glass…
But no one can prepare you for that.
Just like no one can prepare you for the depth that comes through experiencing broken dreams,
or what receiving grace feels like after facing your moral failures,
or what peace feels like after living through utter chaos,
or what joy feels like after you’ve experienced grief,
or what strength feels like after surviving the darkest night,
or what receiving love feels like after experiencing true heartache.
No one can prepare us for these things because we live in a world that is both horrible and beautiful, terrifying and exciting, devastating and hopeful- a world that is itself ambivalent.