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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

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Both sides now

None of us knew when to throw our grad caps. 

That’s what I remember most about my high school graduation in 2020 — not the walk across the stage, not the speeches, not even the masks and the socially distanced chairs on our local football field — but that single moment of hesitation. It’s generation-defining. 

Graduation is an uncertain time, and by God, are these times uncertain. 

The class of 2020 graduated during a pandemic; the class of 2024 will graduate during times of war. Some of our peers at USC and Columbia will not have graduations at all. 

Our celebrations have been tinged with the sorrow of devastating world events — but, hey, I guess, it’s only fitting. The last four years of our college experience have been defined by disease, insurrection, inflation, climate catastrophe and genocide. The list of insurmountable challenges seemingly goes on and on, and for me, it is sometimes hard to find the silver lining.

For a long time, I found it hard to indulge in my happiness because I thought it meant I was complicit. I found it hard to fully enjoy anything — birthdays, weddings, graduations — because I knew people around the world were suffering, because I was suffering, because I knew my late mother would not be there to watch me walk the stage, to turn 20, to marry someone. The sweetness of joy had the bitter aftertaste of loss. 

But these days, I think maybe bittersweet is my favorite flavor of emotion.

In my favorite song, Joni Mitchell sings, “There’s something lost, and something gained / In living every day.”

As graduation comes upon us, it is very easy for me to pinpoint exactly what I’m losing — proximity to my favorite people in the world, constant mental stimulation, the lakes, The Observer, my sense of purpose. It’s much harder to discern what exactly I am gaining.

I’ve been blessed with a world-class education, (hopefully) life-long friends and 72 bylines across four sections of The Observer. I have a (nearly) fully developed frontal lobe. My pen is sharper, and my writing has more bite. But going into the Real World, I am not certain if that means anything. 

When I started at Notre Dame, I sincerely thought Claire Lyons was the answer to the world’s problems. Now I know how naive I was (Thanks college!). A large part of me feels powerless, the part that accepted a tolerable full-time job because she needs practical things like dental insurance and emergency rent money. The other part of me feels incredibly angry, the part that wants to follow my dreams, to answer the University’s call to be a force for good. I still don’t know which part to listen to. 

I want to make a difference, and as far as I know, the only way I can do that be done is one person at a time, by loving the people I love as hard as I can and bearing witness to this miracle we call life. Those are kindnesses that ripple outwards. But this also means you must embrace everything — good and bad. 

Francis Ward Weller writes, “If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering.” Both feelings — all feelings — are gifts, but the balance is what makes the flavor of our lives so exquisitely rich.

To all the people I love, don’t hesitate. Lean into the feeling. I want to see your goddamn cap in the air, even if there are tears in your eyes.

Claire is graduating with degrees in honors English and political science. She wrote the world’s first undergraduate thesis on TikTok’s #corecore movement (as far as she knows). After graduation, she will move to Chicago to start her Adult Job. If you’ve enjoyed her writing over the last three years, she hopes you will subscribe to her free post-grad blog on Substack which she is still learning to use. Keep in touch at

Claire Lyons

Claire Lyons is a senior at Notre Dame from Fort Worth, TX studying English and Political Science.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.