Two phrases I have heard the most about my graduation today are “Congratulations!” and “It’s just a piece of paper.” Clearly opposing sentiments, but the more I hear the latter the more it cements my frustration with the experience of graduating. Mainly, because those that say it’s only a sheet of paper are completely, utterly, 100% wrong.
Now, I will come off as clearly biased, seeing as I am walking across the stage of my university graduation as this publishes, but the bias doesn’t start or end with me. Those who tend to complain that it is just of piece of paper tend to be those that don’t have it, or are tired or bored of trying to get it. It’s an excuse for the lazy to continue to be that way.
It’s true that the piece of paper means nothing. It’s purely an object. It’s what we went through that matters, both the good and the awful experiences. We don’t put on a cap and gown and spend hours waiting for our 15 seconds to cross that stage just for a piece of paper. We do it to claim our victory over the beast that is higher education.
From harassment and admin neglect, to being sexually assaulted, to severe depression and panic disorder, to a major health scare, to battling the effects of concussions, I have had my fair share of traumatic and difficult challenges while in college. I have also been blessed with the ability to receive a customized education and with miraculous luck at having the best mentor I could ever had the opportunity to have.
These last 4.5 years cannot be summarized as “just a piece of paper”. That’s an insult to all of the work I have done, all the challenges I’ve battled, and all of the experiences I will cherish. For many of us who have worked incredibly hard through difficult circumstances to get our degrees, saying it’s just a piece of paper is an insult. Just because you need to feel better about not having one, too lazy to get one, or disliking it in general, doesn’t mean it’s any less valid for me or any other graduate.
Will I put my degree in a large, fancy frame? No, probably not. But my college experience is so much more than a sheet of paper.