I take a deep breath, my gaze darting around the large, echoey space of Horncastle Arena. Students clad in graduation robes and hats hurry across the room, stopping to pose for photos with friends. A lady near me is moving down the line I’m in, checking we’re all standing in alphabetical order and ticking names off a list. The buzz of excitement, relief and tension is in the air. My feet are starting to hurt in my black heels. I wonder how much longer we’ll be made to stand around here before we’re allowed into the arena and can sit down. My phone is in Mum’s handbag so I can’t even check the time. Instead, I stare around the arena, and marvel silently at the fact that after three years of stress, tears, multiple cups of coffee, procrastination, late night study sessions and the urge to occasionally throw my computer across the room in frustration – I am finally standing here in my gold regalia. At my graduation.
An hour beforehand…
I’m in my bedroom putting the finishing touches to my makeup and giving myself the ‘once-over’ glance in the mirror to make sure I don’t look a total mess. The dress I’ve picked was the same one I’d bought to wear for my 21st party last year. I think it will look pretty good with the gold colours us graduates have to wear. My phone dings, signalling a text from Mum. I go downstairs, and am met at the door with two lovely bouquets of pink lilies and a card saying ‘Congratulations’ on the front. There’s just enough time to hug my parents, find some water for the flowers and grab my bag of essentials before it’s time to go.
“So where do we turn off?” Dad’s in the driver’s seat, squinting through his glasses at the road ahead. Mum’s in the front passenger seat and I’ve squeezed myself into the back of my parent’s car, looking out the window at the cars flashing by.
“You were supposed to turn back there. Looks like you’ve missed the turn-off.” Mum points back at the direction we’ve come.
Dad sighs in mock exasperation. “So we miss the graduation, will have to drive all the way back home, Bindy won’t graduate and she’ll end up being a factory worker. All because I missed the turn-off.” I try and fail to stifle a giggle.
“Nothing wrong with being a factory worker,” Mum tries to save face, then sights the sign ahead. “See that green thing? It’s the sign leading to Horncastle Arena.”
I’m relieved when we pull up in one of the parking spots, guided by a man in shorts and a fluoro vest. Dad rages under his breath at the audacity of parking wardens. I pull my regalia on (although I’m still confused as to which way the trencher is supposed to go), then the three of us walk towards the outside of Horncastle Arena, where families and graduates are gathered. Eventually, after I find Ash and her family in the crowd, and after more hugs, introductions and photos, it’s time for us to go in.
Not long now…
I’m jolted to my senses as the line of people in front of me begins to shuffle forwards. After what seems like an age, we slowly make our way into the auditorium and find our seats, where a Maori group is singing on stage. Once everyone is seated and they have finished their performance, we applaud, the lights go down, and the a woman with a welcoming smile and blonde hair takes the podium.
“Welcome everyone. Congratulations and greeting to you all.” She launches into a speech, using phrases like ‘never stop learning’ and ‘knowledge is power.’ We are then entertained by some slam poetry from another speaker, who has used the ABC’s as inspiration which I find very clever and witty. Finally, we are all subjected to listening to a duo talk about how passionate they are about turning insects into a staple food for all of New Zealand. Personally, I’m a little skeptical, mainly because a) I don’t like insects and b) I don’t like the idea of eating insects. We are informed that, all things going well, the company hopes to totally eclipse the traditional consumption of beef and lamb in favour of more nutritious, edible insects.
Oh yeah? I think silently, as applause once again ripples around the arena. Damn. If that’s the case, looks like my parent’s livelihoods will be eclipsed along with it.
Then, the moment I’ve been waiting for arrives. The (very long) lists of graduates are read out, with students marching across the stage in all their different regalia colours. As name after name is called, the anticipation and the long wait means that I begin to get a bit fidgety. My Visual Communication class is the last group to get called, and by the time I eventually stand up to make my way around to the side of the stage, I glimpse Ash walk across the stage to get her certificate. I eye the stairs in front of me and desperately hope that I don’t trip and fall flat on my face in front of everyone. Or walk out of my heels, which actually did happen once when I was on stage in Dad’s Army.
There are only three people in front of me now.
Please don’t fall over, I beg myself silently.
Or let your trencher fall off.
And all of a sudden, my name is called and I walk across the stage to the sound of loud clapping, allowing myself a smile. I’m officially a graduate! The lady with blonde hair shakes my hand warmly and taps me on the head with the board.
“How was your study?” she asks.
It takes me a couple of seconds to realise she is asking me a question, while I fumble with my trencher, trying to get it on as quickly as I can. “Oh, really good thanks,” I mumble, and smile at her, shaking her hand.
Then – horror of horrors – the bloody thing slides around on my head and I only just manage to catch it before it falls off. My inner self shakes her head and covers her eyes with mortification. Honestly…even on your graduation…
“Are you alright?” the blonde-haired lady asks.
“Oh. Yeah, I’m fine, thanks.” I reply, silently acknowledging the fact this extremely awkward exchange has just been caught on the livestream on the Ara website, as well as in front of hundreds of graduates, family members and Ara staff sitting in the audience.
Then I really smile, defiantly shove the trencher on my head, accept my certificate and walk down the stairs and off the stage. A few of my tutors are lined up down the aisle, but to be honest I have no idea whether I’m supposed to shake their hands or not, so I just utter a “Hi,” and wave at them. Legs shaking, I sink back down into my seat and for a brief moment wonder if I might do something stupid like cry.
But of course, I don’t. Because, sod it, I’ve only just gone and got myself a three-year degree in graphic design!
After we all file out, I manage to find Ash and we go looking for our parents. More photos are taken of us in our gear (this time holding our certificates), our regalia is returned, we each get a $20 refund (score!) and later on in the evening, I find myself sitting with both mine and Ash’s family at my favourite restaurant, Speight’s Ale House. We down drinks, laugh, eat amazing-tasting food, and talk about all the great memories we’ve had at Ara, which include but are not limited to: dancing round the classroom to music in the evening when we were supposed to be studying, trying to make an Eiffel Tower out of miniature bulldog clips, snacking on Kit Kats during class, photocopying our faces and pinning them up on the classroom wall, and that one time in first-year our tutor Earl got mad at our class because we hadn’t done our homework so he walked out and left us to it, only to come back and find yours truly (yes, me!) up the front of the class imitating him by attempting to teach the lesson to the others. (This, I seem to remember, involved me pointing at each person’s collage picture on the wall and encouraging everyone to come up with ‘constructive criticisms’ about what worked well and what didn’t). Which, as I seem to remember, ended very well with Earl saying how proud he was of us being all independent and stuff.
Well Earl, if you ever read this, I hope you’ll still be proud of us for hopefully quite some time, whatever we happen to end up doing with our lives. And to all of my tutors and my classmates: thank you all for surviving three years with me in D-Block. I may see you guys round at Black Betty’s for a coffee sometime. You never know.
Anyway, here’s to LIFE.