The Moviegoer’s Guide to Graduation

With coming-of-age stories, there’s often a fascination with the senior year of high school. Graduating from high school represents the death of elementary school, the inflection point where you leave your hometown in favor of college, the epitome of newness: new places, new experiences, new people. College is the start of the rest of your life; graduating from high school represents the end of everything you knew.

There are plenty of movies, in all genres, that show high school graduations. Over the past few years, many outlets have made lists of them in honor of graduation ceremonies canceled due to the pandemic. But these movies usually stop short of showing the next step, as if college is the happy ending rather than the beginning.

When I applied for Daily Arts, I wrote about Greta Gerwig’s 2017 coming-of-age story, “Lady Bird,” which, fittingly, came out when I was a senior at high school. My friends and I had planned to watch the movie with the joke that we were going to “watch ‘Lady Bird’ and have an existential crisis together”, but high school was busy and we never made it. For my application, I wrote about how I’m pretty sure “Lady Bird” would have made me incredibly uncomfortable if I had watched it as a senior. My main reasoning is a sequence near the end of the film: Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”) is at college in New York and goes to a party where she gets drunk, vomits and ends up desperately at home . It’s a tough look at college – not like a happy ending, but a whole new world to conquer and get used to.

In my opinion, while graduating from high school may be more symbolically meaningful, graduating from college is exponentially more terrifying. Most people think of a few discrete paths after graduating from high school, whereas the potential post-college paths, while roughly the same, seem more endless when the scale is changed. And instead of leaving behind a class full of people you’ve known for most of your life, you graduate with thousands of people you’ve never met before and a handful of people who have become the most important people in your life. life – like members of a strange family, often stressed, sometimes drunk, always faithful.

This is the last article I’m going to write for The Daily before I graduate, and all I can think about is how I’ll feel when graduation finally rolls around. It’s hard to fully comprehend that I’m about to leave a place I’ve called home for four very busy and very strange years. It’s worse considering that even if I return to campus, things will be irrevocably different as soon as I put on my cap and gown and receive my degree in the mail. And so, like most self-respecting screenwriters, I turn to movies when times get tough.

Like many former Generation Z rationals, the “graduation movie” reminds me of a classic: “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” Ignoring the film’s cheesy tone and logistical inconsistencies (how exactly does Gabriella start going to Stanford before she’s even finished high school?), it’s a sweet film that encapsulates the feeling of trying to hold on to last moments before leaving. The characters all seem to be wrapped up in nostalgia before they’ve even graduated, and I find myself in some of the same spirals. What will I remember from my stay here before leaving? How will the return be?

It’s surprising how relevant the songs of “HSM 3” are in the context of graduation, in every way. Troy is regularly scheduled and anxious “what do I do now?” song, “Scream,” demonstrates the difficulty of making decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Along with Gabriella’s regularly scheduled dramatic song “I Gotta Go Now,” “Walk Away,” the lyrics (like “No Goodbye Because I Can’t Bear To Say It”) hit a little too hard when you’re ready to say your own goodbyes. Not to mention, part of me wants to come back to campus in a few years and recreate my own version of “The Boys are Back.”

I also watched another memorable graduation movie, “Booksmart,” which follows two girls who, trying to make up for an academically-focused and socially lacking high school experience, bounce between raucous parties the night before graduation. Graduation. The story climaxes in dramatic fashion: Molly (Beanie Feldstein, “Impeachment: American Crime Story”) breaks Amy (Kaitlyn Dever, “Dear Evan Hansen”) out of jail, drives a blazing, blazing car through a fence, passionately kisses a boy on stage in front of the entire senior class, then delivers a sweet, “unscripted” farewell speech.

In the midst of a wild and comically unrealistic sequence, a slightly breathless Molly comes across something in her speech that I think sums up how I feel about graduation as a whole: “Because this part is completed. And it’s so sad. It was great, wasn’t it? Things will never be the same again, but it was perfect.

I have a feeling my graduation won’t be like “Booksmart.” (For one thing, I’m not the valedictorian.) I also don’t think it’ll be like “High School Musical 3,” largely because I don’t think the class of 2022 will University of Michigan is coordinated enough for a giant dance number.

More likely, it’ll be like my high school graduation, where I put on the dress, took pictures with my friends and family, and sat for a few hours, stuck between weirdly retrospective nostalgia and the desire for three hours the ceremony is finally over. If you think about it, graduation ceremonies are just a culmination, a representation of a larger experience rather than an experience in itself. But what it represents are four messy, wacky, sometimes pandemic years that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I can’t say whether watching graduation movies makes graduation better or worse. On the one hand, it tragically reminds me that I am about to leave behind this part of my life. But on the other hand, it’s a reminder that even though the transition from high school to college was difficult, it was worth taking the plunge and entering a new chapter.

For this graduation, I may not need a dramatic entrance or a musical number, but a quick Elle Woods “We did it!” Instead. I did it. We did it. In the end, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

Daily Arts editor Kari Anderson can be reached at [email protected].

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