Thousands of students are graduating in Uganda come next week, as this is happening, something rings in my mind whenever this happens!
Graduation represents the culmination of a journey and the attainment of a goal. It is an exciting period in a person’s life and an array of feelings will surface for the graduate. While most people think of graduation as an exciting and wonderful marking event, many fail to recognize the other emotions evoked by this transition time. Graduation not only can bring up feelings of excitement, pride, and anticipation, but also those of loss, discouragement, and fear.
Feelings of loss are commonly felt by students as they face a multitude of changes in their lives. One would not expect to feel sad during a time typically thought of as a joyful period in one’s life. However, as students approach this transition time, they are often leaving behind friends and the familiarity of campus life. It is not surprising then that as students graduate, they often experience intense grief and loss.
As graduation day approaches, students are faced with an array of decisions. It is not uncommon for students to not only question their future path but also to ponder on the past years spent in the university. Sometimes people wonder if they have chosen the “right major” and a field that best suits their interests. In addition, students grapple with the uncertainty of the future and often ask themselves questions such as “what do I want to do?”, “how to find a job?”, “where do I want to live?”, “should I attend graduate school?”, and “how will I be able to start paying off my loans?” In thinking over one’s past and planning for the future, feelings of discouragement and even despair may surface.
Graduation marks the ending of a structured period in one’s life. During the past two, three, four+ years, students experienced some certainty in their lives. Routines were often established (eg. class schedules, best study hours, study partners, etc …) It is not surprising then that as students leave behind this structured time period, they feel fearful when faced with an ambiguous and uncertain future.
In sum, graduation can be a stressful period in one’s life. Whenever a change occurs (even change that is viewed as positive), people typically experience stress. In addition, people in the graduate’s life often convey the expectation that the graduate should feel excited and joyful. The graduate often does not receive the message that a whole spectrum of feelings may surface prior to, on, and after graduation.
How can one cope with the overwhelming feelings that are evoked by graduation? First, it is important to expect that emotions will come up – not all of these will be feelings of happiness! Second, express your feelings to someone else. Talk to a friend, a parent, a sibling, or someone in your life who can hear how you are feeling. Last, remind yourself of your accomplishments and try not to minimize the goals you have reached for yourself! Lastly, it’s ok to reward yourself & celebrate your achievements!