Emma Sulkowicz

On Graduation: “Let us celebrate the dissidents amongst us”

“If we were to celebrate anything this graduation — let us celebrate the dissidents amongst us. Let us celebrate our resistance, our capacity to care for each other and for the issues we are passionate about so much we butt heads with the institution, our bonds of solidarity that we have formed with our fellow students, with professors and with staff, that have helped us survive these four years.” –Meghna Sridhar

This commencement season, I’ve found myself re-reading a piece a friend of mine, Meghna Sridhar, wrote on the occasion of our college graduation last year. It came at a time when many of my friends and I were still hurting from our time at the College, unable or unwilling to let go of that hurt yet, and resenting ourselves all the more for it.

For many of us, graduation is a time of silence, a time where our experiences are wiped under the purple carpet of institutional glorification and clichéd celebrations. Graduation is a time when we forget that graduating with and amongst us are survivors. Students with anxiety, students who’ve had isolating and alienating experiences at Amherst, students who’ve barely made it through, students who have survived despite, and not because, of the college…. Graduation is a time when a smile is a compulsory uniform; when “getting over it” is institutionally demanded. Graduation is a time when we forget that Angie [Epifano] should have graduated with us right now.

I’m grateful to Meghna for reimagining what graduation — and education — can mean, for embracing resistance down to the very last moment (and beyond):

Let us celebrate all of us on the margins…. Let us celebrate an education that allows us to articulate our own complicity with power, and question and destroy it: not an education that helps us perpetuate it. Let us celebrate those of us who’ve faithfully tried to follow the tradition that’s always lived on at Amherst despite every attempt to suppress it: the tradition of those who sat in at Converse until a Black Studies department was formed; the tradition of those that pushed the college to divest from apartheid despite the backlash; the tradition of those who battled the administrators till their voices were hoarse to include women at this college. Let us celebrate those of us who don’t ask, but demand; who don’t stand by, but push: let us celebrate the spirit of [this school] that lives on despite and not because of the institution.

On Tuesday, Emma Sulkowicz carried her mattress across the stage at her own college graduation. I wondered, looking at photos of her hauling it to the stage, if she’d wanted to leave the mattress behind that day. The pressure, or desire perhaps, she’d felt to pack it away, to show up to that famed first day of “real life” with nothing in tow.

Here’s to the students who struggled and resisted, to those who graduated and to those who did not. Meghna’s full piece is here.

Header image credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

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