Monday, June 13, 2016

Growing Up, Expecting Change, and Looking For the Details: Thoughts From Graduation

Background image source // My next stop is downtown Indianapolis!
Earlier this month, I graduated from high school. My itinerary was packed that day: an 8 a.m. practice, a short break during which I rushed to eat lunch and straighten my hair, and a two-hour-long ceremony in the afternoon. I finally returned home around 6 p.m., weary from the day's events and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that high school was really, truly over.

It was a long, emotional day, but now, more than a week later, what I remember most from the experience was a simple comment made at morning rehearsal. The graduation coordinator, a lively, personable French teacher whom I knew as one of the Key Club advisors, said something to the effect of "For many of you, this is one of the most exciting days of your life so far."

In response, I had to stop and think about how hollow, how untrue that statement felt to me.

Sure, the ceremony was nice for the most part. It was fun to dress up, fun to congratulate everyone and be congratulated in return. I enjoyed hearing speeches from the valedictorian and salutatorian, both of whom I consider friends.

But overall, it wasn't a particularly exciting or memorable day. I never doubted whether or not I would graduate from high school, so the ceremony was merely a formality to commemorate the inevitable. And as the name readers worked their way through the never-ending list of graduates (I went to a large high school with about 1,000 people in my class), I thought not about graduation but about everything my friends and I had experienced throughout the past four years.

Aldridge, Alegria, Alexander

I recalled the sense of accomplishment I felt when the first school newspaper of the 2015-16 school year, during which I served as editor-in-chief, landed on my desk.

Gary, Gauthier, Gbadamosi

I reminisced about the time I went to ALA 2013 and solidified my career goals of working in publishing—a life milestone significantly more important than a graduation ceremony.

Norton, Nunez, Nunnery

I felt proud of my friends for graduating, I suppose. But like me, none of them ever doubted whether or not they would. So I remembered times when I was more proud of them—after I watched them perform a play or show choir routine or set of orchestral music they had been practicing for months.

Vargas, Vasquez, Vega

I thought about the hours upon hours upon hours I spent studying over the past four years. I remembered the essays for English and the physics problems I refused to give up on. I remembered the morning I spent sprawled on the floor of the student publications room, notes and study guides strewn about, as I skipped class to cram for the AP stats exam I had to take that afternoon.

Zaragoza, Zellers, Zheng

I thought about how, for me, life has always been about the personal rather than the ceremonial, the memories rather than the certificates, the phone-camera-snapshot moments rather than the professionally-photographed events.

I appreciate the little things much more than any recognition I may receive. I joined newspaper to work with a group of friends and produce a great product, not to win awards. I studied hard in high school because I loved learning and being productive, not because I had a dream of walking across the stage at graduation. Awards and ceremonies are great, but they are meaningless if they aren't backed by vivid personal memories.

Stereotypical milestones may get the most attention from society, but not from me.

Similarly, I've always been drawn to the smaller details—in addition to the major plot points—of stories I read. (You had to have known this post was going to turn to the topic of literature sooner or later.)

Much like ceremonial events such as graduation, a book's overarching storyline is important. It's often the first element I mention in my reviews, and if a plot is boring, I'm not likely to continue reading.

However, if a novel's plot isn't matched by smaller details about the characters, the setting, and more, I'll become just as annoyed as I become when faced with a stagnant storyline. I want to know the intricacies of supporting characters' personalities and the protagonist's relationship with her parents. I want to know what classes the characters are taking in school, and I want to see them actually doing homework. I want to know the small-town setting's history and learn about the main character's unusual extracurricular activity.

Novels cannot consist entirely of supporting details, but a story's well-executed smaller elements almost always stay with me longer than its overarching plot. A novel may not be worth reading without a storyline, and high school may provide fewer benefits if you don't get to graduate, but neither is worth remembering without the details.

My focus on the intricacies of stories is one of the reasons I'm nervous about graduating from high school. Last November, some of my friends and I started the hashtag #RealYA to discuss elements of the high school experience that are often mis- or underrepresented in YA. We had a great time as the hashtag spread around the blogging world, amassing insightful conversation along the way.

But now I'm concerned about growing up and no longer knowing what it's like to be a teenager. Right now, I'm thrilled when a book accurately portrays a high schooler's classwork, and I'm annoyed when a character does algebra problems for her geometry class. When I'm an adult, however, high school life will have changed (and I'll have started to forget my own), and several of the teenage-years-related nuances I value so highly now may start to carry less weight.

Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking about a discussion post I wrote almost two years ago. In it, I questioned whether or not other teenage book bloggers and I would always read YA or whether we would transition into adult fiction. And as a recent high school graduate, I'm even more confused about that question than I was as a high school junior. Maybe, as the years go by, I'll deal with adulthood by reading about people closer to my own age—and I may once again be able to relate to the finer intricacies of the characters' lives.

You can't know for sure what your life will be like in the future—you can only guess how your career path will progress, how your interest will shift, which people you'll choose to spend time with. I have no idea how closely I'll be able to relate to YA novels as an adult, whether my genre preferences will change, or if I'll still care so deeply about supporting details ten years from now.

But as for right now, I still feel more like a teenager than an adult. I'm still reading primarily YA, and my blog will continue to reflect that. And no matter what, I'm going to keep living and reading for the details, for the wonderful day-to-day moments that make memorable stories—both real and fictional.

Growing up may be a confusing journey with an unexpected event at every turn. But the experiences that coincide with unforeseen changes create memories that make your life a story worth telling.

To everyone who recently graduated: congratulations. To everyone who is working toward a diploma: congratulations to you, too. And to everyone who has mastered the art of living for experiences rather than trophies, whether you have zero diplomas or 25, congratulations most of all to you.

Keep living, keep learning, keep reading. Here's to the class of 2016.

4 comments:

  1. I want to start out by saying congratulations, and I love this post. During the last few weeks it's been really interesting to me to hear about high school graduation from many different people's perspectives. I also kind of think about the reading YA thing. Even though I've graduated I still have a good three years of being a teenager left. I know I'll still be reading YA for a long time. But I do notice that I've read more adult fiction this year than I ever have in my life. It may just have been where my reading has taken me but it's a little strange to think about this transition. I guess we're all just growing up.

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  2. Congrats on graduating! I love how you wrote the post btw, interspersed with the last names.
    Anyway, I love how reflective you were here. I felt the same when I graduated - for sure, I felt proud that I finished high school - but not much else.
    Thank you for sharing, Emily!

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  3. I can't express how much I love and can relate to this post.

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