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To the Graduating Class of '22

Alexandra Grunberg is a Glasgow based author, poet, and screenwriter. Her fiction has appeared in Cast of Wonders, Flash Fiction Online, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and more. This is her seventh story published in Daily Science Fiction.

Decorative sabers and top hats. It was not an internationally popular graduation dress, but Hans Gutenberg had seen a century's worth of pictures of boys like him getting ready to face the world dressed to the nines.
"We're going out in style," Lillian Geissman whispered.
It was the first thing the girl had said to him that had not been about the thesis she completed on digital archives of fan fiction for her master's degree. She left before he had a chance to retort, a long blond braid swinging down her back as she joined Heather Greene, a gothic literature enthusiast who gushed about her studies on domestic revolutions in 19th century English novels. Hans could not judge them. He had just finished boring the boy who would walk in front of him in line, cursed by the alphabetic listing to endure his theories on 18th century French literature as an early form of metafiction.
They were a group of liberal arts graduate students with absolutely no skills to survive outside the hallowed walls of academia.
Through the stained-glass windows, Hans could almost see the world outside. He would be part of it soon enough.
"Excuse me," a boy stammered, poking a dispassionate guard by the locked double doors that led back into Examination Hall West. "I think I still had corrections to fix on my thesis. I'm not ready to graduate yet. I'm sure if you talk to my supervisor...."
Hans shook his head and tuned out the boy's pleas. They had been deemed experts in their chosen diversions. Four years of nonsense. No reason to keep them within the walls anymore. It was time to leave.
A monotone voice came over a loudspeaker somewhere high above them, calling down from the vaulted knave-like ceiling. When Hans craned his neck to look upwards, he could see carvings in the dark wood. Serpents wrapped themselves around the claws of lions. Wolves danced in flames. People with horns as curved as his saber gored the animals with disturbing glee.
"Would the students with surnames beginning with ‘G' please enter the graduation chambre."
Some faces blanched, but every soon-to-be former student walked in a straight line through the guarded archway. They all knew that this was a temporary respite, a momentary indulgence. They all knew what waited for them.
Hans' father had begged him to go into the engineering, as if there would be time before the doors opened to build some kind of armor or fantastic weapon. Hans knew more about the kind of fantastic weapons he would need from Wesley Goodman who had written fifty thousand words on the trebuchet in fantasy fiction. His mother had begged him to major in biology, as if the creatures that waited outside belonged to any known genus or species. He would have had better luck memorizing Regina Gould's ramblings about the gendered magic systems in 1970s feminist speculative literature.
No, his education had not left him remotely prepared to face the world on the other side of the two-story high double doors at the end of the graduation chambre. But Hans doubted his parents had faired any better in this improbable reality with their sensible educations. Their degrees were probably still hanging on walls so much more fragile than the university's fortified stone, illegible through a sheen of dust. There was nowhere to send this class's degrees, no one waiting for them. The only people who cared about their graduation were the incoming students who needed them to leave so there would be room in the dorms, who saw the great towers from wherever they huddled outside and were waiting to rush in at the gate on the south side of the campus. Just as soon as the doors opened.
"Congratulations to the graduating class of '22," the voice over the loudspeaker stated without enthusiasm. "We hope you are proud of the work you have accomplished."
Hans' top hat felt lighter on his head. His saber felt sturdier at his side as he gripped its handle. Because he was. He was proud of the work he had done. Four years of his life spent filling his days with exactly what he wanted to learn, and he did not waste a minute of it on a subject he did not care about, on some practical nonsense that would not help him any more than the metafiction he loved.
The great doors opened, and the students were met with the sound of a great rushing roar, like a thousand serpents and lions and wolves all clamoring to consume them.
"Are you ready?" whispered Wesley.
His voice trembled, but his saber did not as he unsheathed in from its scabbard.
"No," said Hans. "But no student ever is. Let's go."
"Going out in style!" whooped Lillian.
Hans and the other graduates followed her as she led the charge out of the chamber, a group of academics abandoned to their futures, not remotely ready for the world they were about to face.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 7th, 2022
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