Graduation and facing next steps

Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer at graduation for my seminary. To be clear—I did not walk in the ceremony this year, but some of my close friends did. During the commencement service, I saw graduates receive their Master’s degree hoods or wear their Ph.D. bars proudly. It was an amazing moment, to watch the people I’ve known as goofy, over-stressed students step into the next phase of life. Someday soon, they’ll be someone’s pastor, teacher, counselor or justice advocate. I think most of us in the audience shared the same mix of emotions: pride, nostalgia, a little bit of sadness, and excitement.

The end of the school year is a reflective season, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you as I look back on my own time in school.

I remember the first day of the semester after transferring to my seminary in Chicago in 2013. Even though I had already completed nearly a year’s worth of credits at another school, I didn’t know what to expect in my new environment. I didn’t know anyone there. I had never even seen the campus in person. Yet, day after day, I felt more at home at seminary, making friends and attending class. Before I knew it, I had a group of friends I knew well and cared about a lot. I had all of my academic degree requirements complete. It still feels as though I’m new here, but I’m not—not anymore.

It’s changes like these that make me realize that it can feel as though time may pass slowly from day to day, but seems to go by at light speed in retrospect. I have just a year left in my degree program, and this time of year is making me realize that I should appreciate what remains. I only have a chance to experience it once. That’s what makes this period of life special—even if it involves late nights in the library writing an essay or reading dense material I don’t always absorb as well as I’d like. Once I graduate, like so many students did a few weeks back, I know part of me is going to miss school.

Before I had started seminary, I wish someone had told me this. I also wish I had known that a flexible attitude is more important than I could have imagined. When I first sent in my application, I assumed that seminary would look a certain way, and take me down the exact path that I had laid out for myself, all because I knew what I wanted. I easily forget that the world doesn’t always give me what I plan and hope for. Being able to adjust and, yes, be happy with what comes takes practice. Simply knowing that life can unexpectedly change is a healthy outlook, one that I hope to fully embrace in my last year in school.

If I could write a letter to myself in my first semester of seminary, I would add, “Some people are telling you that you just won’t be able to do everything you set out to do. Believe them.” I heard this over and over again when I started school but didn’t believe that this would be me at times. Even though I’m now finished with all my in-class work for my degree, I have finally become a believer in (1) working ahead as much as possible, no matter how much I don’t want to, (2) setting realistic expectations for myself, and (3) forgiving myself when I fall behind. Seminary has changed me in so many ways, and this is one of them.

Even though I would love to convince 2012 Erin of all of this, that’s just not the way life works. Now, I’m looking ahead. I’m thinking about how proud I am of my friends who are moving on from seminary. I’m looking forward to meeting next year’s new students. And I’m wondering what the next year holds for me, too.