When the Film Stops Rolling

By: Jocelyn Mattka

Your teacher ends the Teams call and you stare at a blank screen. Then you shut the laptop and sit alone in a quiet room. You stare out into the silence, wondering how the last four years could have possibly gone by so quickly.

You try to decide what you should feel. It’s not quite sad; no, it can’t be a sad moment because you’ve just earned your high school diploma. It’s not quite happy; you imagine cheering into empty space and find it rather silly. It’s not quite angry; there’s no one to blame. So you sit, undecided. Not quite happy, not quite sad, not quite angry.

Maybe you call up a friend, to talk about how weird it feels. How there’s no end-of-year class party. How you didn’t even get to say goodbye. Or maybe you flip open a book, or clean your room. Maybe you join a game of Among Us, it’s the modern pastime after all. Or put on your playlist of nostalgic music. That’s how you’re supposed to feel right? A little bit nostalgic?

There are no balloons, no restaurant. Your guardians are still at work. So maybe you whip out the bowls and pans to make yourself some cookies. You picked up baking as a hobby, of course, so you’re practically an expert now. When you’re done with that you might get out for a walk. Breathe in the freedom of the summer air because summer is supposed to be exciting. Take in the cheesy lawn sign that designates your house as the home of a graduate. Your mom insisted on putting it out. Because that’s what you are now: a 2021 graduate.

As you look at that sign, that blank laptop screen, or that last bit of teacher feedback, you have a thought. You made it. Despite this strange, anticlimactic feeling, you did something unique and wonderful. You succeeded in a year where the world fell apart around you. So it’s bittersweet, yes. But just because bittersweet is bitter doesn’t mean that the sweetness part should be forgotten.

And so you write a card to your best friend and leave it in his mailbox just to say congratulations. You send an email to some classmates to thank them for being your greatest supporters during this life-changing year. You pullout the old sidewalk chalk and mark up the cement with messages of congratulations and praise. To remind all of the grads of 2021 that they are not alone. And maybe some of those grads do the same, pass it on. Those grads are a network of support and pride and celebration. It only takes a spark to bring that network to life.

Or maybe you’re still sitting at your laptop, staring into the empty room. Maybe you’re… hello? Did you zone out for a moment as the last four years replayed in your mind? That’s okay. I’ll leave you to it. But once you’re ready, congratulate a grad this month, or anyone who completed something difficult this past year. Never mind that it will mean the world to them, you’ll be surprised by just how much that small connection will mean to you.