Natalia Temesgen

Don’t let graduation weekends put undue pressure on you

While I’m on a mini-summer-vacation from teaching, many students are preparing to receive diplomas or just clock out on the last day of school.

Next week, my family will trek up to Rhode Island to cheer on my baby sister as she graduates from Brown. She’s the last sibling to graduate from college, but this won’t be the last graduation. With my two other siblings in medical school and my baby sister seriously considering a master’s program, we’ll have a few more Naman family graduations before our generation is through.

I celebrate academic achievement with earnest enthusiasm, but I find most graduation weekends put undue pressure on the graduate. With all of the talk of endless possibilities and boundless potential, it’s hard to imagine the average college graduate walking into the “real world” and admitting that they aren’t totally sure where they’re headed.

An even more bitter pill to swallow: your best laid plans may not always lead you where you hoped. When it turns out that law school is a complete disaster or that working at the coffee shop where you were just paying rent until grad school application season ends up being hugely satisfying and makes you wonder about entrepreneurship instead of engineering like you’d always told everyone, how are you supposed to feel?

Failure is this very uncomfortable and yet completely inevitable part of your 20’s. When it hits, what you need most is not a diploma (though it’s very helpful!). What you need most is a community of friends and family that aren’t afraid to talk honestly about life’s hurdles and offer love as you find your footing. What you need, too, is your own realistic understanding of the world. If you know that graduation weekend is a little bit of a holiday in that its trappings have added a degree of magic and custom to what was perhaps once a relatively grounded affair, then you might know that failure is coming and be prepared to handle it with self-love, patience, grace, flexibility and perseverance.

I am so proud of my sister. And I’m proud of each of you that are graduating or celebrating a graduate. Perhaps after showering all of the due praise on our exceptional young people, we can find the time to remind them that they are still human, that mistakes are expected, and that we will be cheering for them even then, when they fall flat on their butts.

Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at