Paper Reality

| Niels ter Meer

With a new batch of graduates having their graduation ceremony, student columnist Niels ter Meer thinks we should think about what the pieces of paper we get are really worth. To us, that is.


Suppose, for whatever reason, you (intent) to skip your graduation ceremony. Having better things to do than stare at spotlights for example. If you still want your diploma, you now have two options:  having it send to you via mail, or picking it up on campus. Since you’re nearby anyway, why not just pick it up. Easy, just sign some forms and you’ll be on your way. Not so fast, says the UT.

After an early morning lecture (you were on campus after all), sleep-deprived you drag yourself to the Pavilion to pick up the piece of paper. However, unbeknownst to you, there is a room — complete with flags and decorations — dedicated to just handing people their diploma. You’re asked to take a seat there by an over-enthusiastic employee, while she gets your diploma. But when she gets back, proverbial hell breaks loose, as you, going by the little celebration she intends to set up for you, realise that you are nowhere near as happy with your diploma as you’re supposed to be. You leave, ‘as one of the fastest ever’ with your diploma, UT PR material you didn’t ask for, and a pile of conflicted feelings; leaving the bewildered employee behind.

She will not be the first with that reaction. After all, you’re supposed to be happy with your diploma; you should want to celebrate. But instead, when you look back, you see the extent to which you were overworked, how unnecessarily hard it was made at times, and how stressful these years were. It somehow feels like so much was taken from you, and you barely got something in return. So you wonder: ‘but for what?’

When you confide in people about how you feel about that diploma, you’re met with bewilderment, and something akin to anger. They start to come up with reasons why you feel like that, or why you should just play along. ‘You’re just whining, picking at the little details.’

These are usually the same people who had mostly the same during the studies experiences as you. Some fared a bit better or worse than others, but more or less the same. But the moment graduation arrives, they seem to forget all about it. You’re getting your diploma; nothing but a moment to celebrate! But for others, their reaction might be rooted in something more nefarious: It seems because, if I feel conflicted and ambivalent about my diploma, I implicitly devalue theirs. And if there’s one thing our community is allergic to, it is devaluing other’s CV’s.

Evidently, as is, there’s little room for those conflicted feelings. Graduating, currently, is not really about you; it is about the value of your diploma — something you should feel grateful for. No wonder the UT wants to throw you a party, whether you want one or not.

However, I think graduating should also be a moment to reflect. Remember what you have learned, how you have grown, and think critically — as you were taught — whether this was all worth it. There should be room to feel happy, grateful, proud, and even conflicted. It should be about you, regardless of whether you want a party or not.

For me, even though I do feel ambivalent and conflicted about my diploma, and even though I don’t think it has that much value, these are not feelings of regret. If I had to do this again, knowing it’ll be a struggle, I still might. So while my diploma lives in some dark corner of my room, I’m still proud of the person, the almost engineer, I have become.

So — and be honest: what about you?

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