An Obligatory ConGRADulations – A Semi-Open Letter to my Pals Graduating from University

It’s that time of the year again and I wish I could physically be present to celebrate with and support my dear friends who are graduating.  But, I can’t because I am sharing a California King-sized bed with my mom, dad, and brother in the middle of Nowheresville (just kidding, I’m in Tiburon and it’s actually quite nice).  At least we all have our own pillow.

Since I can’t be yelling embarrassing things at my friends while they walk across that stage to get a very expensive piece of paper and shake the hands of people they probably don’t actually know, in plain ol’ Christina fashion, writing is the next best thing I can think of to express the multitude of thoughts I’m having for my friends who are about to embark on the next part of their journey.

I’ve written before on how graduating can leave you confused and disillusioned.  And while I still believe that to be true, this is a more positive post, one that’s hopefully less foreboding than what you’re used to getting from me.

So, congratulations!!11!!!!!1!1!!!!!

You have accomplished quite a feat.  Behind this 15-letter word of “congratulations” are your years of hard work, sacrifice, moments of great exasperation and defiance.  While we may not always acknowledge it, I know this to be true.  This is your moment.  Take it in and appreciate everything you have done to get you here.

Whether you are a First Generation student, carrying the faith of your family on your back alongside the textbooks you’ve shoved in your bookbag, or a student who never had to question if a university education could be your reality, you have gone through so much.  This day is about recognizing your frustrations and barriers, just as much as it’s about your triumphs.

 

After graduating, it took me the better part of a year to finally figure out how to keep challenging myself and learning after leaving student life.  It is so easy for us to fall in line, to get a job and live our lives, relegating education to something of our past.  And to keep learning, keep questioning and engaging with things critically…it is not something done by most.  But friends, I encourage you to try.  I’ve been privileged enough to have free time to spend chatting with friends about social issues, sitting in on university classes even though I’m not a student.  It’s helped me a lot in easing my way out and simultaneously, back in, to the university.  But for those of you who don’t have that option, it’s going to be hard.  But, you got through so many hard things as a student, and I am confident in your ability to get through this too.  And if you can’t quite get through it alone, I have a very empty living room and three air mattresses.

I know that people think our generation of millenials are spoiled, misdirected, and/or take things for granted.  Maybe that is true for some.  But your graduation and the impending fears you already have or will have should not be dismissed just because you fall into the millennial time frame.  Your worries about the future are valid and legitimate.  After all, you have spent the better part of your life listening to others telling you how to survive a system that was not created for you to think for yourself.  And now, you’re off, and you’re told to think for yourself and accomplish great things.  How vague.  What kind of “great things” can you accomplish if you’re not yet ready to be thrust into the world?

These are all questions we have when we graduate, we just try to hide them.  But I’m here to say, do not hide them and do not be ashamed if you don’t have things figured out, even a little bit.  Be open and honest with your fears, because we all have them.  Don’t let anyone say you are not allowed to be fearful or challenge yourself just because you’re young.  Having fears of the future and also being happy about your accomplishments as a college graduate do not have to be exclusive things.  You’re allowed to question your worth some days, and be super proud of your accomplishments on others.  I didn’t learn this immediately, and still have to remind myself on occasion.

But, most of all, aside from “congratulations”,  I am here to say that I am so proud.

I am proud to know you and to call you my friend.  And I am so grateful that through every option the universe has had for you and for me, we were able to come together in some way and learn from each other.  I am proud that you persevered and did what you needed to so that you could walk across that stage, be cheered on by family, and smile for awkward photographs.  And I am proud to know that you will do great things.  Vague as it is, I am so sure of it.  You have already done great things by just being who you are and being a friend to me.  And though it doesn’t pay the bills, I hope that my pride in you will motivate you to be proud and confident in yourself too.  So, throw up that cardboard hat that literally has no other use than to be a very poorly constructed Frisbee, and celebrate all that you are and all that you will be.

With love, gratitude, and ZOTS (for you other Anteaters out there),

Christina

a reminder on what trauma is not

You are a person with a collection of experiences.  If those experiences do not include a form of trauma, this post is not for you.

Trauma can be an isolated event or it can be a series of them, but regardless, it is hard to separate the experience[s] from you as a person.
Despite this, you are not your trauma.  You were, will be, and always have been more than what has happened to you.  But anyone who says overcoming those experiences will make you better and stronger is full of shit.  Not because that isn’t necessarily true, but because the people who say that usually don’t have those experiences.  And so how the hell would they know if you’re stronger because some awful, horrible thing happened to you?

Because trauma can make you distrustful, scared, vengeful. All the things you’re told not to be because they’re bad qualities? That’s what you can become.  
Not always, but sometimes.  
Sometimes those feelings subside, but sometimes they swell up like an emotional Hulk.  That is alright and normal.  Anyone who negates your emotions doesn’t deserve the time it takes to talk about your trauma or the privilege of helping you heal.

And the healing process is just that.  A process.  Overcoming trauma isn’t a positive experience. It is not a destination or the ending of an uplifting, inspirational direct-to-TV Lifetime Original Movie.
It isn’t something that just makes you “stronger” or have a more nuanced understanding of social issues. It’s a lifelong journey that you never signed up for and the rare moments of accolades or pats on the back by well-intentioned supporters don’t do anything to negate the sense of despair you sometimes (or all the time) feel.

Your trauma is not the moral of a story
or a code to crack in order to figure out why you’re afraid to get into a relationship or walk home alone.

Your trauma is not a side note written in the margins of someone else’s story.
It is not fodder for another exposé, documentary, or political debate.

Your trauma is not anyone else’s inspiration.  It deserves more than being a launchpad for someone else’s success.

Your trauma is your eventual triumph and sometimes your downfall.  It is crying at night, but remembering the day always comes.  It is waves of bitterness, speckled with glimmers of hope and vice versa. It is not something to forget or overcome.  Because overcoming means leaving, and we always know that that pain never leaves, just ebbs and flows.

Your trauma is yours, and yours alone.
And sometimes that can be scary.  Debilitating.

Because people tell you that overcoming it makes you better, more well-rounded.  That people who experience hardships don’t take things for granted, are kinder people, can understand the world in ways others couldn’t.

But the people who say that do it out of habit, to make the world more understandable.

You don’t owe those people comfort and you don’t need to oblige their well-intentioned allyship.  If you are a survivor that doesn’t align with their process of healing and that makes them uncomfortable, that is not your problem.  You don’t need their flimsy solidarity.

In this context, you don’t owe anyone but yourself love, respect, and dignity.  You deserve the dignity your trauma negated you.  And if that dignity includes being angry, being confused, being sad for long periods of time, then that’s what you deserve. Don’t let your trauma or others who want to heal your trauma hold you back from experiencing a full range of human emotions because you don’t want to be seen as weak or depressing.

And if in time, you come to a place where you can write the own ending to your own uplifting direct-to-TV Lifetime Original Movie of sorts, then you damn well get to do that because it’s your life and it’s your trauma and it’s your experience, and no one else’s.

It is you knowing full well that forgiving yourself is harder than forgiving anyone else, but you do it anyway because you have to keep living.

Your trauma is your own, and your own, and still always your own.  And no one has the right or the power to strip you of your truths.

with all the love my tiny body can give,
Christina

Who Do You Want To Be? : On the Future of Children’s Futures

I am twenty three.  23.  That is two whole decades and then some.

When I was ten, I thought twenty was lightyears away; that to get there, time and space would move so quickly that I’d wake up and one day my life would just be laid out for me.

I remember we would have to tell adults what we would want to be when we grew up.  It was and still is my least favorite question. Hell, I didn’t even know what I would be doing during recess…how was ten year old me supposed to know what I wanted to do as a viable career?

At the time, I didn’t know why I disliked the idea of thinking about my future so much.  But, looking back, I know.  For children, and even for adults, there is no wiggle room and definitely no such thing as a gap year.  Your future as a grown up meant a job title.  Lawyer.  Doctor. Teacher. Defined roles and no time for a discussion of you as a fully functioning little human.

I am doing my damnedest to reverse that thought process.

Maybe because when we teach children occupations as aspirations instead of qualities or convictions, we will inevitably become adults that focus on structure, on job titles, on climbing the ladder.

Children are grown enough to take stock of what we ask of them.  They’re smart enough to realize what others value and what they don’t.   So what if we gave them real opportunities to show us who they are now and who they could be down the line?  They may not know what they want to do for a living, but we can teach them how to live.

And sure, maybe “compassionate” or “inquisitive” isn’t exactly a great selling point in asking for a pay raise.  But what if it was?  And what if those things weren’t just words we used to make us feel better when the world deals us all a shitty hand?  What if we put true value in qualities that make up beautiful, loving humans?  What if instead of asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, we started asking children “Who do you want to be? And how are you going to get there?”

I am going to try and do this with the young ones in my life, and I encourage you to do the same.  What are some other questions we could be asking children in our lives?  Share what you do to help validate our children and encourage their growth!