When I graduated from the University of Oregon, I felt like I was on top of the world. Over the course of two days, I got praised endlessly. I got awards, certificates, honor cords, honorary pins and diplomas that finally recognized all those years of hard work. It was sunny, I was wearing a pretty dress, all my friends and family surrounded me and all I did was sit there and smile.
That’s all, just smile. I seemed unable to turn off the grin through both those days. Probably because I didn’t know what else to do. I’ve never received compliments well; I never figured out how to react or what to say, so I always just smiled and said “thank you” over and over.
Getting a compliment never felt right. To me it always seemed like the conversational version of a see-saw: while one person is doing all the work to pull the see-saw down, the other is just enjoying the ride to the top without pulling their weight. So when my advisor, a no-nonsense kind of guy who doesn’t do sappy, presented me with a journalism award along with a glowing laundry list of my merits, I felt like marching up to the podium to set the record straight and give him the partial credit he deserved for my accomplishments.
My point: the praise I received blinded my smiling self into forgetting just how hard I worked to earn it all. The awards and the graduation ceremonies boosted my ego but made me forget about my past work ethic. I forgot that, once college is over, we have to start all over again to prove we’re as great as our diplomas say we are. Sure, we got a degree. Sure, our grades were good and our teachers liked us and we held leadership positions in school organizations. But when our skills are put to the test in the workplace, will we deliver?
I’ve worked really, really hard this week to impress people—people whose journalistic background is awe-inspiring and totally intimidating. It’s been a challenge. But I’m glad my temporary graduation amnesia is gone and the work ethic is back.