Approaching 40: I’ll remember

Sometime in the spring of 1994, the last semester of senior year at college, me and a bunch of friends headed over to the local theater one evening to catch the film With Honors. I knew nothing about the movie going in, but it ultimately dealt with college kids (at Harvard, I believe) and at the end, they all graduated. It was a kind of poignant moment, because our graduation was just around the corner. The song that played in that final scene (perhaps as the credits rolled, I don’t recall) was Madonna’s “I’ll Remember,” and ever since, I’ve associated that song with my own graduation.

My graduation took place in June 1994. My grandparents couldn’t make it because they were traveling, and I was rather disappointed by this. We’d done a practice the day (or perhaps week) before so the entire graduating class knew what to do. UC Riverside was, at the time, one of the smaller of the University of California campuses, but we still had in the neighborhood of 8,000 students and that meant a pretty big graduating class. The rest of my family came down to attend the graduation ceremony. I would just as soon have skipped it. I’m not particularly sentimental and I felt that working my ass off for four years earned me the right to skip out on the insanity of sitting in the baking sun for a few hours, while wearing black. Indeed, this bothered me so much, that I later parodied the event in my first published science fiction story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer”:

The fact that it was summer solstice would, under ordinary circumstances, never have entered my mind. However, it was also my graduation day and the high-noon sun would allow none of us graduates to forget that summer was upon us. The graduation ceremony was like a final exam: one in which we demonstrated that we were smart enough to follow one another in an endless procession, under a blazing sun, draped in black. We sat there baking while the speaker cast his arms about the similarly-dressed audience, praising our individuality. Finally the dean of the school conferred upon us our respective degrees, and we tossed our sweat-drenched caps into the air and plotted our escape.

That was not far from the truth of my own graduation day. It was baking hot out. My family sat in the bleachers somewhere while I sat down among the graduates, lost in a sea of black, indistinguishable from anyone else. I was hot and the sun was making me hotter. Halfway through the endless ceremony I began to grow restless. When it was my turn to head up to receive my diploma, I made a decision. I walked onto the stage, smiled, accepted my diploma, shook hands, and then proceeded back down the aisle toward my seat as instructed. Only, I didn’t stop at my row. I kept going. And going, right out of the ceremony area, and indeed, right off campus and back to my apartment, where I lay down on my bed in the cool breath of the air conditioning and napped until my family found their way back.

I think it was a little difficult to believe that I actually graduated. College had simply sped by. I felt like I’d just gotten through with my high school graduation ceremony and here I was four years later, with a college degree in my pocket.

Of course, that was not really the end, but the beginning. Now that I had a degree, I was done with school. I’d been in school as far back as I could remember. Now it would be time for me to start looking for a job. I had no idea what kind of job I would look for, or what I would be interested in doing. I’d been doing some computer work for the office administrators of the dorm cafeteria and that, at least, I could continue through the summer. But at some point, I’d need to find a job. And in the summer of 1994, the job market was not great.