I hate graduation speeches. They’re trite. In the same manner as a horoscope, you can plug one in anywhere and it would still “make sense.” I’ve seen plenty of these, but I’ve only seen one that truly connected with me on a more-than-superficial level. It was the 182nd Commencement of Hanover College, in May of 2015. Cameron Graca, a friend of many and a leader in and out of the classroom was the class speaker. I expected nothing more than the typical graduation speech with cliche pop culture references and a lame Top 10 list in some form or another. But something he said that day echos around my head frequently, even a year after the fact.

He said to us, “I. Am. Afraid. I am afraid that this is as good as it gets.” You could almost feel the air pressure drop as everyone took a sharp breath inward at hearing these words of vulnerability. With those few words he connected with the soon-to-be graduates on a level that was, as the kids say, “too real.” All through our senior year we tried and failed to put words to this feeling of unease and anxiety that we were feeling. We all felt it. This lingering feeling of discomfort and a knotting up of our stomachs. But there was never a time when anyone accurately articulated that feeling until that moment at Commencement.

It was fear, plain and simple. The fear that the last few years of life could never be topped. That the friends we made, the experiences we shared, the work we did, would never be matched by anything the future had in store for us. We quickly discovered that one of the greatest costs of our education was not the financial burdens many of us took on; it was spending four years cultivating experiences and friendships which were about to be stripped from us, never to return. Just like that, Cameron summed up that sickening feeling in our guts, and we all knew he was right. We felt fear. We all did.

Thankfully, we didn’t reach the point of Commencement and live in the purgatory of collegiate exile for the rest of our lives. Things didn’t “end” there. The credits didn’t roll. While the time and type of experiences that exist after graduation are certainly different, things are only getting better. Yes, there are new challenges. Some are fun and exciting and some make me want to drive back to campus and take a walk through the woods along the Ohio River like we used to do.

I’ve realized since graduating, that those four years were special because I and the people around me made those years special. It was a choice. Faced with the reality of life after college, we all have a choice to make. We can wallow in the past now, or create a new past to wallow about in the future. And when it comes time to face the end of our new era of memories, we’ll have the same choice to make once again.

So, to all you newly graduated bright shiny beacons of joy, the term you’re looking for to describe that pit in your stomach is fear.

And the term you’re looking for to describe how you know you’ll be alright is hope.

Which one you listen to is a choice, and it’s up to you.

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