It's Okay, I Missed My Grad Too

It's Okay, I Missed My Grad Too June 19, 2020 · 11 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links.

It has been ten years, but I still remember my teacher's face when I told her I wasn't going to grad. In disbelief, she triple confirmed that I was deliberately missing out on the biggest celebration in a student's career. I then triple confirmed that yes, I wasn't going. Then they called my parents. My parents confirmed it too. A month later there was another phone-call. I would be winning some awards at graduation – would I be there to receive them? No, I would not be at graduation.

In 2010 I made a decision to miss my graduation. This year, countless people are forced to miss theirs. The situation is different, but I'm here to say that it's going to be okay.

Michael A. Riffel Highschool

When the 2010 yearbook came out, I saw pictures of my high school friends at graduation, celebrating, cheering, and having fun. I would be lying if I said there was a void where I should be in those pictures, but there was not. I doubt many of my friends even remember I wasn't there that night. Some acquaintances even thought I moved away.

Graduation clothes

My friends later told me that there were some awkward moments at the award ceremony when I was not there to get my award, but beyond some long pauses and shuffling of papers, nobody really noticed.

So, what did I do instead of going to grad?

I chose to travel.

My mother and I hopped on a plane after my last day of high school and flew to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The day all my friends were graduating, I was sitting in a small lodge on the edge of Cape Breton, watching firebugs dance in the black night sky. The next day we drove around the misty coast, took a ferry to Prince Edward Island, and enjoyed Canada Day in beautiful Charlottetown – the Cradle of Confederation.

Me in PEI in 2010 Me in New Brunswick in 2010

When I got my yearbook the following year, I regretted not going for only a moment. But, then I closed the book, put it in my closet and didn't think about it again. I don't often talk about it, but it does come up in discussion, like on the Story of U podcast. When I do bring it up, people always ask: why didn't I go to grad?

And it's simply because I didn't want to.

I was picked on in high school because of how I acted, how I spoke (or didn't speak – I was shy back then), how I looked, and just about everything else. Some of it was justified, some of it wasn't – you know how high school can be. It took years to get over that and sometimes I still wince at those memories. In grade nine I even considered just changing schools altogether. Instead, I joined the football team as the equipment manager. Even though I found a place for myself in high school, it didn't stop the bullying.

Football jacket

Sometimes I feel that because I never "closed" the final chapter on high school that my high school life never ended, and that is why I still hold so many grudges. I know people change – I have, greatly – and I should give them another chance. But the jerks, bullies and popular kids in high school didn't change. Nobody ever put them in their place, nobody ever taught them a lesson and they never grew up. They are the same person they were in high school. Just like the Bowling for Soup song says, high school never ends.

Instead of worrying about them, I focused on myself. The moment I left high school the world was open to me – as it will be to you. I was looking into Katimavik, a non-profit organization that sends Canadian youth around the country to different provinces to get work experience. I applied to Mars One, a project for the first manned mission to Mars. I worked, I saved money and I had big dreams for the future. Of all the things I wanted to do, the most important of them all was to travel.

Five months after skipping grad, I flew to Quebec. Four months after that, I flew to Europe. I didn't go to Europe when I was in high school. Instead, I chose to go afterwards, alone, on my own time, to experience a non-filtered version of Europe. I went to bars in Munich, I went to sex theatres in Amsterdam, I went to the cathedrals in Rome. It was an eye-opening experience that changed my life.

Trip to Italy

Two years later I travelled to New York and Florida. The next year I did Japan and Hong Kong. A few years later I was back in Europe – exploring the ruins of Chernobyl and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The next year I did Mexico. Then I took on Canada, visiting nine provinces in less than one year.

Trip to Japan Trip to Mexico

During all that, I got an education and found employment. I received an applied certificate at SIAST, and then furthered my education at Sask Polytechnic.

Not every part of my post-graduation life was a success though. I applied for some jobs I really wanted and never heard back. Once I was fired, and twice I walked out. I wrote off a car after crashing it into a school bus. I went to therapy twice. I struggled with finances. I moved out of my parent's place, moved back in, moved out again, and then moved around five times in two years. I made friends, I lost friends, and I met somebody very special – my girlfriend. We will be celebrating our tenth year together next January.

Jessica and me

Missing graduation did not change my life. Instead, it gave me a chance to reclaim it. It gave me a chance to embrace who I was, to shed off the shell of high school and to live my life the way I wanted to live it.

If I were to go back ten years, I'd tell an 18-year-old me not to worry so much and just do things, even if they are crazy. Trust me. Am I crazy for thinking I could host cemetery tours and erect a monument to the victims of the Regina Spanish Influenza? Yeah, but I did it. Am I crazy for thinking I could map out the cemetery, digitize it and make it into an educational game, in less than six months? Sure, I'm crazy. It took seven months instead. Am I crazy for starting a travel blog in hopes of making a living? One hundred percent I am out of my mind… but you're reading it right now.

Spanish Flu Monument unveiling

I'm telling you all this because graduation will not define your life. Only you can do that.

I know some people think graduation is the biggest night of their lives – but it isn't. It's the biggest night so far. Soon you'll be able to try new foods, visit new places, meet new people, fall in love, grow, change and become who you are meant to be. Ten years from now you won't be worried about missing graduation. You'll be wondering why you didn't take more chances, go on more adventures, or live your life a little bit more.  

I know things are tough right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, but a year before I graduated there was the H1N1 pandemic. Over a half million people died. I remember the schools being emptied – although, not closed – and several of my friends got sick. Things are different now, and they can be scary, but things will get better. The world didn't end during the pandemics of 2009, 1968, 1957 or 1918. Soon things will go back to normal.

One last piece of advice for the graduates reading this: when you start your own journey, whatever it is and wherever it takes you, don't hesitate to reconnect with your teachers. I am friends with many of my teachers, and some of them don't even teach anymore either. It's interesting how many are trying something new too, just like you. It doesn't matter if you are 18 or 68, it's never too late to start on your journey.

So, to that, congratulations to the 2020 Graduates, and good luck in the "real world".

(Spoiler: it isn't all that different.)

Don't forget to pin it!

It's Okay, I Missed My Grad Too It's Okay, I Missed My Grad Too

And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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When the 2010 yearbook came out, I saw pictures of my high school friends at graduation, celebrating, cheering, and having fun. I would be lying if I said there was a void where I should be in those pictures, but there was not. I doubt many of my friends even remember I wasn't there that night. Some acquaintances even thought I moved away.

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