Flash Fiction: The Graduate (no, not that one)

Adam sat alone in his dark basement, considering his options for the future. He had recently finished school, at the young age of forty, and knew he needed to use all the effort he had expended over the past two and a half years to propel his career forward, even if it would primarily be for money, instead of a passion for his work. He opened the job site, sighing as he realized that he still felt the weight of waiting for the final confirmation that he had, indeed, graduated.

Not that he hadn’t received certain forms of confirmation, such as the email he received from his university that he could pay an additional fifteen dollars in order to download a digital version of his diploma. Or the email he had received from the honors society telling him that they wanted to hear his story. Or the message from his advisor saying that he had, indeed, graduated. Summa cum laude, even, which made him laugh because of how much he knew he could have tried harder and that this was probably more of a commentary on the level of schooling he had received, in opposition to the actual effort his had provided.

Yet, even with all of these definitive versions of confirmation, he still didn’t quite feel like it was real. This thing had worked on for so long, that he had stopped working on for so long after having his initial time in college end with him being frustrated at failing a class for inconsequential reasons having nothing to do with his academic performance, this thing he started again mere years later only to learn he would have to start at the beginning because his credits from the unaccredited college he had originally attended wouldn’t transfer, this thing he dropped out of again because he simply couldn’t stomach doing it all over again, this thing that had become more of a unwanted requirement than something he cared for, had happened, yet he didn’t still feel the relief he had hoped would come with the completion.

He couldn’t understand why the relief wouldn’t come. On why he, after working so hard (even if he knew he should have worked harder) on fitting in his coursework between all the requirements of life with a wife and three children and a day job, simply didn’t feel like he had accomplished anything.

As he sat staring at the job opportunities he could apply for, he still found himself feeling like none of them were quite what he was looking for out of life, that they weren’t things he could truly feel passionate about. And, remembering his past history with job hunts, he felt truly concerned about the idea of getting excited about a job he could be passionate about, only to never receive any sort of message back.

With yet another sigh, he decided to remove himself from his computer for a moment and find some other way to fill the time. He walked up the stairs and out into the crisp fresh air of the still-frigid April Wisconsin morning. While taking in a deep breath, as though to try and fill his body with the newness of spring and wash away all of the stress he had put himself under these past thirty months, he saw the mail truck pull away from the mailbox at the end of his driveway.

He walked to the mailbox, mind still stuck in the world of what to do about his life, feeling that he was far too old to still have questions like this. Retrieving his post, he walked back to the house, sifting through the documents in his hand. The most apparent piece was a large white cardboard envelope addressed to him from his university. When they had emailed him a few days prior, they had said his diploma would take six to eight weeks to arrive, so he girded himself against the idea that this parcel was somehow the harbinger of bad news.

Entering the house, the pulled the strip of cardboard across the top of the envelope to open it, and pulled out a thick piece of card stock. His heart leapt into his throat as he saw the piece of paper he had been ridiculing as being meaningless since he had first rage-quit from college twenty years prior.

But there it was, his name, on an official document, stating he had, in fact, received his bachelor’s degree with the highest of honors. And although he would never reveal this next fact to anyone, he felt tears well up in his eyes.

He had long ago decided that he had no actual interest in receiving this piece of paper, outside of, after deciding he should finally finish school to make him more valuable to prospective employers, as a marker of his completion. But at this exact moment, just briefly, it felt as if the world was slightly less heavy.

And he sighed again. This time, a short sigh of relief. It was over. Now he just had the rest of his life to contend with.


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