Time for Class (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Graduation took place here at the college over the weekend. Always a joyous and exciting time for all involved. For me, it means a couple months of relative peace and quiet (both of which are most welcomed). Parents, too, seem ecstatic. Not only have their little ones finally graduated, the weight of having to support them through college has now been thrown off their shoulders with gusto.

But graduation is all about the students. They’re the stars of the show. Four years of late nights and early classes, of endless tests and papers and reading assignments measured in feet rather than pages, is now gone. They’ve proved their worth and endured their hardships. They’re free. The world awaits.

This sort of sentiment was echoed last week by a student so thrilled to just get on with it that she screamed:

“I passed my exam and now I’m getting ready to start looking for a teaching job. I CAN’T WAIT TO START REAL LIFE!!”

I didn’t see this girl. Just heard her. And I likely would have at least tried to get a glimpse to see if I knew her or not, but I didn’t. Couldn’t, actually. I was too paralyzed by laughter to move.

I can’t fault her for saying something like that. Ignorance and youth is a potent combination. Mix them together and you can have all manner of explosions, everything from deeds that really shouldn’t be done to words that elicit guffaws from those older and more experienced. People like that student just don’t know any better. I know this to be true. I was young once. You should’ve heard the things I used to say.

What she’s falling for is the same thing I once did. The same thing we all have done.

She thinks the hard part is over.

It isn’t, of course. For her and the rest of those who stepped upon the stage as students and stepped off as alumni, the real hard part has yet to have happened.

School, the real school, is just starting. And so are the exams.

It’ll start when the teaching job she tries to find isn’t there because of cutbacks and a bad economy. If she’s lucky, she’ll get an aide’s position or substitute. If she’s unlucky, she’ll end up working at the Gap in the mall, making a little over minimum wage with no benefits and school loans to repay.

Another one will come when she gets married and has to learn that love is a complicated thing sometimes. It’s work and it hurts and very often you have no idea at all what you’re doing, yet you feel like you have to anyway.

And kids. Kids are exams of immense pressure and importance. Ones you think you have to not only pass, but ace. But that won’t happen. We all fail those exams from time to time.

Those are just the easy ones, too. Work and love and children are at least tests she’ll be able to somewhat prepare for. She may not know when they’ll be coming, but she may know they will someday.

Most of the other ones are not so accommodating. They’re the pop quizzes of life, the ones you can’t study for and can’t see coming. There will be a lot of those for her, too.

I wouldn’t have told her any of this if I had seen her. Sometimes you have to let someone enjoy the moment, no matter how fleeting that moment may be. And I wouldn’t want to discourage her, either. Because real life truly is exciting and beautiful and wonderful and good despite it all.

She’ll graduate one day, just as we all will. She’ll get her final grade of pass or fail and then step onto the grand stage of this world and step off into the lands of the next.

From now until then, I think, is the greatest exam of all. One that began over the weekend and will continue on until her last breath and God calls, “Pencil down.” It’s a test not of knowledge, but perseverance.

A test to fight the good fight.

To let go and to hang on.

To believe when she doesn’t want to.

And to answer without fail the bell that signals the start of class every day.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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