Reflections on Graduation IV

By Jessica Pfleiderer

When I graduated from high school, I thought I would always remember walking across the stage and getting my diploma. The only thing I remember is that I didn’t fall in front of the few thousand people who were there. On the other hand, the homecoming game from my senior year and the debate practice when my best friend taped me to a chair will be etched in my memory forever.

Reflecting on the importance of these relatively “small moments” in life, respected women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony once said, “Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit, and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.”

Measuring my days at GW, I realized that there is nothing like the opportunities and experiences that living in Washington offers. Seeing the Washington Monument on our way to class… having the State Department across the street from the Elliott School… praying the Red Line has not broken down when you hop on the Metro, this campus is like no other. We’ve all sprinted to class, freshly printed papers flapping behind us, trying to find a stapler somewhere along the way. We met in Gelman at 3 A.M. during finals, living off Red Bull and junk food. We don’t flinch at large motorcades as they whiz by, and we can usually gauge how important the person is and what country they’re from.

We crowded on the streets to watch the Pope-mobile drive by; we cheered on the GW basketball team, dressed up for the annual Ball and, on January 18, 2009, while most of the country eagerly waited to see the concert performance scheduled at the Lincoln Memorial in honor of the upcoming Inauguration, GW students and staff woke up to a police state of humvees on every corner and having to desperately clutch GWorld cards in order to make it past the checkpoints and back to the dorms while dodging the crazy tourists in their Obama paraphernalia. I even posed for a photo to prove to my parents that this really happened. These are just a few examples of the strange yet oddly thrilling experiences that define our years at this university.

These memories are the “stray dogs” that made up our time at GW and our lives to this point. While graduations, weddings, and anniversaries are important markers, remembering the small things form the building blocks to these greater moments. They give us our bridesmaids, the embarrassing toasts, sidekicks in our adventures of life and the stories that define those moments.

To parents, guardians, family, and special friends: You all remember the random phone calls and conversations you had at odd hours of the evening… or morning, nagging your son or daughter to make sure they actually ate something resembling vegetables, and now you see them move on to the next period of their lives. As some of my friends put it, to “become a ‘real’ person.” Well, then, here’s to “real personhood!” Thank you to all of you who have been so supportive of us and all of our quirks.

As we move on to new jobs, graduate school, new relationships, and new places, remember to let these memories amble ’round, the ones that are close to you. Down the road, the happy dance you and your roommate did when housing worked out for the next year, the hug your sorority sister gave you right before that awful final, the slap on the back from your teammate before the game, and the concert you stood in line for tickets to for eight hours will be what you remember. The hugs and Facebook messages that kept you sane over the past two months of finals and the incredible all nighters for those twenty page papers that will ring clearly in memory.

As we enter the next stage of our lives, I wish you all the best and thank many of you for my own memories. Congratulations class of 2009!

Jessica is graduating from the Elliott School of International Affairs with an M.A. in International Affairs and a focus on U.S. Foreign Policy. She is a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow and will enter the Foreign Service in August.

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