"I want to believe you," she says, "But I can't. You've hurt me too many times." He promises she can believe him, and her eyes coast across the packages. Is that it? "I love you too," he says, and she kisses him, and he says it again, and again. XO XO XO XO.
Every graduation speech ever written starts with a simple fact: "commencement" means something beginning, not ending. You see it as the endpoint of something, because it's the end of the whole world that you know. And every grownup and parent and teacher in the room knows it's the opposite, so they enlighten you with a little vocab. They're not wrong. But they're also not precisely right, because it's been too long for them to remember that it's both. It's the beginning of what they think is the real story, and sometime soon you'll agree. You'll forget that any of this mattered. You'll turn around and condescend to the kids that come after you, and assure them that it's not something ending, it's just the beginning. Real life starts here.
But you'll get the same speech when you graduate college, when you have a kid, when you turn twenty, when you turn thirty. When you turn forty, oh my God they'll tell you that speech a million times when you turn forty. "This is when your life starts. This is when it's real. This is when it starts mattering. Everything before this was stupid and doesn't mean anything. This is the day you become real."
And you can feel relief, every time, because the last chapter was so fucking exhausting and you learned so much and hurt so much and changed so much, it really does feel like the beginning of something. And in that long stretch between twenty and thirty, and thirty and forty, maybe you'll secretly wish for a few more ceremonies, a few more commencement speeches, just to give you that permission to start the new chapter. To become more, to start your life, to treat it like it's real, like these moments matter.
You'll get tired, and you'll get discouraged, and you'll stare yourself down in the mirror and promise to be perfect from now on. You'll break up, you'll get divorced, you'll suffer unbearable disappointments. You'll pick up again and keep moving. You'll get fat and you'll get skinny. You'll learn languages, and you'll forget them. You will fall down on the job, and you'll be ashamed of your weaknesses and your unthinking, exhausted cruelties. You'll see the patterns in your life taking shape in your children, and you'll want to warn them to be better, stronger, faster. Quieter. You'll wish for silence more than anything, and for a moment to sit still in the sun. You'll beg for the right to feel your actual age, and not like a horrible mistake has been made where you're suddenly accountable for your own actions. That feeling never goes away. You'll have as many epiphanies as there are seasons, and some of them will take. Most of them won't.