If you've graduated high school, attended a graduation, or have even Googled the term "Graduation," chances are you're familiar with Vitamin C's song of the same name. If Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" is the soundtrack of the holidays, this 2000 hit has become synonymous with cap and gown season–receiving regular play at senior events, compilation playlists, and more often than not, at actual graduations.
Its legacy lives on as the one song that accurately sums up every feeling we ever had about the high school experience, and while Vitamin C herself, aka Colleen Fitzpatrick (who is currently the Vice President of music at Nickelodeon), didn't anticipate the song's lifespan, she had a hunch she had stumbled onto something special.
"I certainly didn't expect it to live on for so many years," Fitzpatrick told InStyle via phone. "I think that when you write a song, you always have the hope that it means as much to people as it does to you, but it's never a given." She explained that found herself under the song's spell, too, before the final recording. "I remember listening back to the demo of this particular song on a Tuesday around 1 AM, and I got really emotional," Fitzpatrick said. "I got emotional in a way I don't think I probably had before, and I said to my co-writer, 'Wow, this is one special song.' It was this moment that we somehow felt the power of the song amongst ourselves."
Playing the song now, 17 years after its initial release, that power still resonates. As the chorus winds up, I found myself overwhelmed with my own high school memories—and, in a particularly meta moment, I remember almost crying upon hearing the song at my own graduation (or graduation party, I can't completely remember but I was definitely in my cap and gown).
When I relayed this memory to Fitzpatrick, she told me that's exactly what she was going for. "You know what's funny? Nowhere in the song did I actually say graduation. It was called 'Friends Forever' because it emanated from a place just about friendship and the evolving nature of your friends over time," she said. "It's sort of how one door closes and another opens—you see them for a period of really intense friendship, then, boom! The world sort of turns upside down, and you're onto the next phase of your life."
I asked Fitzpatrick what she believes is the real reason for the song's staying-power: "It's probably because it’s the first time in many people's lives that specific experience occurs," she said. "The really big transition in life is when you leave high school and go into the great unknown. To me, that was the most emotional transition, and it resonates and sets the stage for a person's future."
While her own graduation was predictably emotional—"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, what's happening? My life is changing and it's never going to go back to what it was!'"—Fitzpatrick said she couldn’t wait to move onto the next chapter of her life, which, ironically, would eventual lead her to become the patron saint of graduations everywhere.
"What's funny about [this song’s legacy] is, when I was graduating from high school, I didn't know where my life would lead. I was still very much a performer, but I knew I didn't want to do that forever," she says. "I would have told myself, don't waste time worrying, take as many risks as you can, and have a lot of fun." It's the same advice she'd give herself today, as well as to seniors lining up to graduate, but with one addition: "I would also say, strive for the impossible. It's a real cliché, but I think there's something to that. So many people want to do things they're so afraid to do when they're graduating, but that's your opportunity to do them. The door is opening, so step through, and go for it."
A woman of her word, Fitzpatrick is still in touch with some of her high school and college friends today, and the hairstylist who created that iconic flip for the "Graduation" video—who, fun fact, also happens to be named Colleen—is still her hairstylist to this day. Friends forever, indeed.