I began my last day at UofT the same way I conducted every day as a student—with complacent lateness, logistical dysfunction and a mad dash. I prevented the streetcar from leaving by forcing the driver to weigh being on time over the cost of running over my body. With an audible squeal of joy at my good fortune, I settled in for the streetcar ride. In my full-length skirt, buzzed hair, and glittering choker, I cut an impressive figure—like an aging opera singer.
Upon arrival I was processed through proliferating queues and numbered lists, giving me the chance to feel like just a number one last time. I bonded with one administrator over the capitalistic process. “You must comply, and trust the system,” she said. I was given a gown with a suspicious whitish stain on the shoulder. Failing utterly to fasten the hood, I reaffirmed the value of the deductive and critical thinking skills I paid over 10,000 dollars and spent four years to acquire.
We then sat through an hour of pontification over our peers’ successes. So-and-so got ten 100% final grades. So-and-so learned ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Sanskrit. Five so-and-sos are headed to Oxford. My hunger-induced rage growing, I gleefully daydreamed my biography to be read aloud for these students, parents, and administrators. “Basic Income Unit 1000014904 fulfilled basic requirements to graduate and served on various student organizations, providing the bare minimum programming while taking up space that could have been occupied by students who actually did things. In the fall she will go on to work at Tim Hortons.” Giving up, I went on my iPad, taking selfies with my fellow cynics on the left and right.
Agony concluded, I met my parents and partner outside. Having descended into full ragequit hunger mode by this time, it did not occur to me that on this momentous day my parents wouldn’t find it humorous for me to complain at the top of my lungs how I hated this place and how it was a felony crime that the coffee was being hidden from me. “Stop yelling about how much you hate this school,” they said. I bit down a scream of rage and stuffed my mouth with egg salad.
Having settled down, we geared up to make stiff conversation with other awkward graduates and their aging parents. I observed many people I would have liked to have known, now that it was too late to get to know them. Some friends sought refuge under a tree. I drank the lifegiving coffee.
My mother convinced me to not wear sensible flats during the ceremony, which I regretted immediately—what better way to graduate than an agonizing but aesthetic journey across campus across the stage? Cursing, I returned to be marshalled by various administrative talking heads. We were shuffled into single file lines of about 50, then mixed so that odd numbers were in one line and even numbers in another, then forced to stand and talk in awkward groups of strangers for over an hour. Apparently the hoods are made from real rabbit fur? I think most of us would rather have paid the $40 to hold a live rabbit than rent a stupid gown.
Guided by bagpipes, we crossed campus to the clapping of confused picnickers and the screams of a small dog. At Con Hall we settled in for the long haul, serenaded by triumphal and terrifying organ. We listened to a speech by someone too intelligent and multi-disciplinary to feel okay about.
Then we were approached by a marshall. “You go first,” she said. “Just go up, stand on the black dots, and shake the hand of the person in front of you.” This straightforward advice left us woefully unprepared, my fellow graduate making small anxious sounds beside me. I assured her we would be fine, knowing inside that we would single-handedly ruin the ceremony with our awkward clumsiness. The marshall signaled us and we stood on the black dots, marching purposefully forth on her mark to shake the hands of various administrative bigwigs.
The president of UofT was a small seated man. “What are you doing next,” he asked. I mumbled something about a year off. I moved down the line, shaking the hands of increasingly unimportant people, until I hit someone I had never seen before and awkwardly thanked for no reason. We were ushered off the stage.
Receiving my diploma in the hallway, I gazed longingly at the doors to the outside, then returned for another hour of people standing on black dots and shaking the hands of the person in front of them. I tried a variety of leg positions, crossed, folded, with and without shoes. Seated in the front row, I developed a system for not making eye contact with people I knew until they were directly in front of me. I daydreamed about the cafeteria workers protesting outside—it was good that the school was not renewing their contract with Aramark to encourage the use of local food, but the protesters were also right to insist on their job security and the sanctity of their union. An impasse.
Treated to various pieces of unsolicited, out-of-touch advice, we were free to go. The people on stage only just escaped before the hordes of graduates and parents surged towards the doors. I somehow found my parents and partner, and forced them to take photos of me in my gown, out of it, and with various combinations of friends and lighting. We’d only just finished the mandatory photoshoot when my parents and partner abruptly left, giving me no time to be reassured that I was worth something and wasn’t an utter disappointment.
I wandered the field, trying to stave off existential dread. I saw people, said goodbye to some friends and acquaintances I would never see again, and posed for some photos. I was approached by some Toronto-themed website, who took a photo of me and asked what I was doing post-graduation. I gave them some soundbite and they thanked me. I will spend my year off working at Tim Hortons and playing League of Legends, but they didn’t need to know that.
We returned to Old Vic to drop off our gowns. This most iconic building of our campus had scaffolding on it—the administration had taken it down for a film festival, and put it up so it could grace the photos of their new graduates with its industrial aesthetic. Hearts black with cynicism and social media savvy, we posed with the pylons in a photo that represented how our college valued us. We posted the photos and watched the number of likes climb. Then we left.