I am officially a graduate. The cap, the gown, the slow walk across the stage. I am in the second row and watch the students walk across the stage. One petite women has on four inch heels, the shoes encrusted with rhinestones and diamante and she strides confidently to shake hands and receive her scroll. One man has on his running shoes, as if maybe once having walked off the stage he'll sprint out of Ely Cathedral and do a short run around the town before returning for his prosecco. I see women who clearly have not had on a pair of heels since before the pandemic and will probably toss the black stilettos into the darkest reaches of the closet when they get home. One man has what look like brand new wingtips, shiny and probably squeaking with joy as he does his happy dance across the stage. White platform ankle boots, shiny black Doc Martens, dance flats with little black bows on them, soft brown leather men's business shoes. For every body that took the time to come to the ceremony, there's a matching set of shoes that walks them across to their achievement.
The announcer speaks everyone's name with the same importance and energy. My friend tells me that the OU called her in Switzerland to ensure they would pronounce her name correctly, and I love that they cared that much. The last person across the stage gets as much energy and applause as the first person and the dancing person and the people who stopped and had five minute conversations with the presenter. I am surprisingly emotional.
Today, just eight days later, I go visit my friend who turns 82. I'm more than 20 years younger than her, but still, clearly, past middle age. Past the time most people decide to get a degree.
Past dreaming. But I'm not.
And I hope I never am.
I realize today, truly, for the first time, that you are old when you stop. When you stop moving, stop thinking about the future, stop thinking of all the things you still want to do. And physically, I can't stop. I watch how the pandemic destroyed my friend, how in the space of a few years she became old: mentally, physically. Her life constrained by weakness and anxiety. And I realize this: once you stop, dreaming, planning, plotting, exercising, walking, lifting weight, learning, practicing. That once you stop, it's just harder and harder to restart, to move forward, to dream.
I can't stop dreaming.