Illustration by Esme.

Illustration by Esme.

ConGRADulations, graduates! You’ve been GRADually working on earning that degree, and ’tis finally the season of GRADifying celebrations to show GRADitude! It’s also the season of commencement-themed puns, mostly found inside flimsy greeting cards from relatives like Grandma. (Or should I say GRADma?) (No, I shouldn’t.)

All punny business aside, graduation is a VERY SERIOUS EXPERIENCE, a once-in-a-lifetime transitional moment that will make enduring imprints on the rest of your earthly existence. This a time you will never get back—EVER AGAIN. EVER. It’s OVER, dude.

As you enter the beige unknown of the Real World, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a lot of advice. You’ll read it in the notes that accompany $20 bills sent by relatives like that aunt you haven’t seen since sixth grade, at your cousin’s wedding; you’ll hear it from teachers who never really “got” you but seem to think they really “know” you; you’ll come across it in catalogs trying to sell you $200 class rings. Listen to all of it, because it is all correct.

Now, maybe you thinking, High school graduation can’t be that important, can it, in the grand scheme of this journey called life? That’s a nice thought, but haven’t you heard that it’s not the journey, but the destination that counts? (Don’t they have a section on clichés in the SATs? You should know this one!) High school is the SINGLE most important experience of your whole entire life, and this is its act three, its crowning achievement, its grand finale. Take it from me: The more seriously you take high school graduation, the better.

Below are some time-tested graduation-themed truths (which is my field of scholarly expertise as a 21-year-old). Keep these adages tucked under your graduation cap for near-future reference, and absorb their counsel as sincerely as you would the advice of any adult you only mildly trust.

1. Prepare to peak!
You made it, baby! Here you are, at the summit of your youth. Take a big, deep breath and hold it in. You won’t be here long. (There’s not a lot of oxygen at such high altitudes.) You’re on top right now, so enjoy the accolades from friends and family, both close and far-flung, as you rake in their gifts of monies, praise, and cheek-pinching. Take full stock of every generically kind sentiment you are offered—e.g., “good job” and “you did it”—because this is the best you’re going to get. It’s all downhill from here. Live it!

2. This is your spotlight—bask in it.
At commencement, you’re onstage, in front of thousands of beaming eyes. (What’s that? No, they couldn’t be asleep.) This is the fairytale moment that every high-schooler dreams of: racing to the podium to receive a faux-diploma* and blasé congratulations from an administrator who mispronounces your name in front of an auditorium full of bored relatives. You will shine! Practice your smile, your handshake, and the measured strut that will make or break you as this year’s Most Memorable Graduate. You want everyone to remember how amazing you looked in your 10 seconds of glory—especially your parents, who can definitely see from all the way back in row 80. Oh, and don’t trip. That would ruin EVERYTHING.

3. Look your best.
The graduation ceremony is really only the pre-game for the true event: the ceremonial taking of the photos. You have to look perfect. Purchase an expensive new dress for the occasion, and get shoes with heels high enough to say, “I can handle these shoes, so I can handle anything!” How high really depends on your personal abilities and growth as a person. (“The higher the heel, the smarter the student” is what the attendees will say to themselves and one another while judging the procession of graduates.) Back to the dress: This is the most essential tool in your photo-preparation kit. I mean, no one will actually see what you’re wearing under your shapeless polyester sheath of honor, but you have to look damn sophisticated underneath. People will sense the effort and care you put towards looking your best. But hey, don’t worry about it—just smile for the camera! You look stunning in that curtain of a gown.

4. Say goodbye FOREVER.
Goodbye to the daily ritual of the 8 AM sprint to your seat, the tricky lunchroom politics, and the raging weekend parties (or lack thereof). Also say goodbye to friends, frenemies, and all the familiar faces in between. Whether they’re going off to college, to new jobs, or nowhere in particular, lord knows you’ll DEFINITELY never see these people again. You’d better get it all out there in your farewells. And I mean ALL of it—like those secret feelings towards Chad, who once stole your pencil and your heart in first period, but only gave the pencil back; or your maturely resolved feelings towards Chelsea, your ex-BFFL who banned you from her lunch table sophomore year but whom you’d like to reconcile with just to show that you’re above petty grudges. You certainly won’t face any of these people again, not even when you come home in a few months for Thanksgiving. Say goodbye to everything you know because soon it will be a rotting corpse in the graveyard of your childhood.

Sorry, do you think I’m being dramatic? Well, in the words of Shakespeare, which you probably just didn’t actually read for honors English, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Don’t hate the player, hate the stage.

5. From now on, only look back.
Listen to the experts (like me—young adult, wise sage, and aspiring professional greeting-card writer): The future is a sham. Adulthood is filled with all the burdens tied to independence, such as making your own decisions, choosing where you live, not having a curfew, and eating ice cream for breakfast. You’d better savor what little supervision and powerlessness you have left. Soon, you won’t have guardians, teachers, or other overbearing adults breathing down your neck. In this new stage of being your own person and building your own life, you’re going to miss that feeling of impotence so much that you’d forfeit your newfound freedom and personal space for just one more day of invasive authority.
Please take these advices to heart, graduates. The rest of your life is waiting for you to design it according to your wildest and most fulfilling dreams, but YAWN, right? And by the way—conGRADS! ♦

* The real one usually comes in the mail later, but no one knows this. Consider it an insider tip.