Commencement Means Beginning, Not End

Lucy LiversidgeJuly 9, 2020Fun and CreativityFeatures
Commencement Means Beginning, Not End

This past May, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced the indefinite cancellation of commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020.

As with any graduating class, this group of seniors is hardworking, driven, and deserving. It is high time for second semester celebration, but quarantine has kept friends away from friends and cancelled culminating events meant to honor accomplishment and dedication. For many who have, for four years, been motivated by the daydream of walking across the graduation stage, surrounded by peers, an alternative future has proven difficult to imagine. At the beginning of this academic year, as any other academic year, I had a subconscious plan. Eight months of studying would open up into a meandering second semester and summer. I readily postponed my fun to when it felt most convenient and responsible, to this time as I had imagined it to be.

There is little dispute over the importance of fun, especially in childhood. Enjoyment, particularly as it intersects with creativity and imagination, reinforces intelligence and efficiency. And fun or play is different from leisure insofar as it is unstructured and imaginative. But as I have gotten older, as I’ve given maturity my best shot, fun and lightheartedness do not hold the same status as productivity and its factors. Work done with brute force seemed to me more effective. Some of this is cultural and some is personal, but whatever it is, the rapid unfurling of the last several weeks have proven this work ethic to be the opposite, a waste of time. I had planned to have my teenage fun in the last few months of high school, on a schedule I could not guarantee but believed was in my best interest. Sometimes I’ll allow fun so long as it has a point. Reading books for pleasure, writing, and watching documentaries rather than TV are all things I honestly enjoy, but, as I sit at home, I wonder if there was loud, emphatic fun to be had.

In my free time, I’ve been organizing our attic. It is filled mostly of tangled wires, suitcases and memories of our childhoods (stuffed animals, ceramics, photos). Confined to the rooms I grew up in, surrounded by the memorabilia of my girlhood, I feel myself growing young again. My quarantine has offered childlike freedom with its fewer demands and elusive timescape. Against the will of my teenaged development, I’m at home and milling around. Now, as I return, I wonder if I had true fun back then. Or did I make play time productive? There’s a home video of my sisters and me playing courtroom. I was the judge, with my legs dangling from the seat of an office chair, as Ava defended Chloe’s case or the other way around. This is typical of our memories together, falling in perfect sibling order. I preferred stories when they had a lesson to offer; I chose trivia games, likely because I found them sensible. In the face of my future and of my departure from home, this reversion seems a suddenly obvious step in the transition from girl to woman whose gap is bridged only by what I’ve learned. Here’s another opportunity to add a slat. This month is not a chance to do the years over, but it might be just enough time to reminisce. In our solitude and in our free time, we are being given the chance to reimagine what fun is to us. The sooner we can find our preferred form of play, outside of the status quo and, for me, outside of large group gatherings, the more time we’ll have for true, personalized enjoyment.

I had always seen this season clearly in my mind. However foggy or uncertain life seemed, I could see just what I was working toward: a cap, a gown, a diploma, a celebration. Since I began at my school in seventh grade, the high school graduation has been held under a billowing white tent. It has always been easy to envision myself as part of the procession. Now, however, I will transition out of school virtually and without the interconnectedness of ceremony and revelry. What’s more, my imagination is failing me. There is no way to render, in color or with words, what the future might look like. I am on a Senior End of Year Committee with eight peers and, while administrative, planning alternatives to hallmark celebratory events has been a challenging creative assignment. We are being asked to imagine gathering in a way truly unprecedented, in a virtual reality only now fully inhabited. For help with this, we might also turn to childhood, when the imagination is most active, when circumstance, accomplishment, environment, and tradition were not requisites for fun, festivity, joy.

I anticipated, even planned on, finding closure and good fun in the end-of-year activities. Prom, Senior Week, Honors’ Day, and Commencement were meant to crown four years of honest, hard work, and growth worth celebrating. I know now that there is no time to postpone the celebration. Waiting until late summer, or January, or my college graduation, or a job acceptance to pat myself on the back, to dance, to throw some sort of hat in the air, is not responsible, is not the smart thing to do. There’s fun and laughing to be done now, amidst feverish study and in the face of the world’s aching. I can’t even be bothered to worry about being cliché as there’s fun in that too.

I’m full of a feeling like it was dinner. Not regret but growth, stemming from a girlhood well-lived, honest but naïve and nearly finished.


Brown, S. Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Avery, 2009.

Robinson, L. Smith, M, M.A., Segal, J, Ph.D., Shubin, J. "The Benefits of Play for Adults." HelpGuide, June 2019.

Lucy Liversidge, 17, is a member of the California Editorial Board and lives in Altadena, California. Her interests include poetry, creative writing, sewing, and sustainability.