A Note on Liminality, to the Class of 2020

June 09, 2020

Elissa Lee, 24, spent her childhood in Austin, Texas, her adolescence in Taiwan, and her college years at UC Berkeley. She has founded initiatives around storytelling and mental health and arts education. Previously, she worked at Too Small to Fail, coordinating a national campaign to promote the importance of early brain and language development in children. Elissa currently resides in sunny LA, pursuing a degree in occupational therapy and researching chronic conditions in medically underserved populations. She is passionate about increasing access to healthcare systems and creating a kinder world through the written word.

Dear Graduate, 

Congratulations on your graduation, from all of us at Born This Way Foundation and Channel Kindness.

Graduations are a time of celebration, but also of liminality — which in anthropology, I’ve learned, is the “quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete” (thank you Wikipedia, for putting it more eloquently than my brain.) You are no longer a student, but not on yet to the next adventure, wherever that might be. 

When I graduated from university, I felt that I had spent much of the last two decades of my life as a student, doing student things, and that despite my continuous last-minute essay-cramming, I had become an expert in being a student. It was a train track and I was a well-oiled, veteran little train, riding the rails.

And then suddenly, I became a little train lost. Or a train crashing on my little sister’s couch, living on credit, and trying to figure out the next step. A train messing up interviews by forgetting what they had applied to, or blanking during interview responses, or being totally unsure about whether they wanted to go on this particular train track at all. A little train, feeling purposeless, in a liminal space. A little train without tracks.

I realized in that time, through the uncertainty and liminality, there was space to reflect and there was an opportunity to learn. I honed my core values, things I continue to live by today. I leaned on my family for moral support, and found my best friends to go through this next step of “adulting” together, and joke about this experience (sometimes, a little humor goes a long way). I kept a little post-it for myself from Sheryl Sandberg, who had spoken publicly for the first time about her husband’s death at our commencement, and the grief and resilience that came with, “Lift each other up, help each other [make the best of] option B—and celebrate each and every moment of joy.”

This graduation, taking place in an unprecedented pandemic, is a much more liminal space than I could have ever imagined. These were probably not the plans you had.

But I wish for you, in our liminal times, the space to reflect and find meaning, the strength to uplift one another, the resilience to thrive, and the chance to celebrate — each and every moment of joy.

The world needs you. But please, take a little breath first, in the way that you can. 

Congratulations again, class of 2020 — welcome to the team. Can’t wait to see what we can do to change the world for the better, together.


Elissa S. Lee

Occupational Therapy Doctorate, Class of 2020