Throughout the ceremony it had been slipping slowly.
While we marched into Hessel Hall, packed with family and friends, while our commencement speaker, an alumnus, delivered an effortlessly funny speech, and while various students gave the final performances of their high school careers, it made its way down the side of my head, inch by excruciating inch.
Finally, as I heard my name called and stood to receive the physical acknowledgment of the single-most important achievement of my life, the cap gave its final wobble and dismounted my head in one fell swoop.
Four years ago, such an occurrence would have immobilized me with mortification, but on this fine, rainy day, I merely beamed sheepishly as I strode across the stage, one hand out to receive my diploma, one hand to my head, restraining the faulty cap. The audience chuckled some at my predicament, and my parents’ earnest pictures would later come out blurry with my excessive motion, but if there is one thing high school has taught me, it’s that such things happen, and that it’s okay.
I hadn’t always felt this way. A quick flashback reveals 15-year-old me, sitting at a piano bench at the annual Piano Guild auditions, petrified. As I launched into my rendition of a Beethoven sonata, I had a momentary memory lapse and completely froze. Suddenly I felt terrified and unable to perform the rest of my piece. At the piano, the seconds ticked by as the judge patiently waited for me to continue playing. I was too caught up in my fear to even touch the keys.
Needless to say, it wasn’t my best audition. The situation revealed the most fundamental of my weaknesses. For a long time my greatest fear was that nothing I did could ever match up to my expectations. To compensate for this, I would micromanage every detail of the task at hand, leaving nothing short of all bases covered. Even then, I couldn’t always account for everything that could possibly go astray. And when something did go wrong, I was as inflexible as a brick wall.
As I grew older, I figured this needed to change. A year after the piano bench incident, I had the opportunity to make a change when I moved from my home state of Maryland to New York and enrolled at Lawrence Woodmere Academy.
At LWA, things did begin to change. Much of this was due to a newfound motivation I developed in classes that inspired and teachers who encouraged me. Much of it revolved around the new set of responsibilities I found myself with as an older teenager with less parental supervision. Some of it could even be attributed to the natural shifts that occur with a change of location.
Most of all, however, I found that the majority of changes I observed arose naturally as I matured and developed. Too long had I tried to force myself to take on roles for which I was not emotionally or intellectually ready. Instead, I soon realized that no amount of wishing or agonizing could hasten the process of growing up. When I accepted that fact, I was finally able to sit back and let myself make mistakes. In the process, I came to see that the setbacks I had encountered weren’t the failures I had made them out to be but were instead learning experiences, the aggregation of which made me the person I am today.
The escapade of the errant cap was just one more thing to add to this list as I left the halls of the school I had come to know as a second home. I departed a wiser, more responsible version of the person who had walked in two years prior.
I didn’t feel the need to control every aspect of everything that happened anymore, nor did I feel as though I wasn’t capable enough to handle things when the situation called for it. I was finally ready to live life with the freedom and self-respect that I deserved.
If there’s one thing I do want to keep restrained, though, it’s my graduation cap for the next time, four years from now.