Some 6.8 million college students will graduate in China this summer, an exhilarating time for students and their families alike.
I know the feeling: Michelle, my 21-year-old daughter, has just graduated from college too.
When I got my history diploma at Peking University in 1981, the only memorable ceremony we had was a group photo with fellow history majors and our teachers.
Over the years, graduations from Chinese universities have become elaborate affairs with students dressed in black gowns strutting the red carpet at formal ceremonies, before posing for the obligatory group pictures.
This year, some students are breaking with convention -- striving to project their individuality, exercise free speech or simply to be a bit naughty and different.
Several photos recently posted on Chinese micro-blogging sites show graduates illustrate this. One particularly eye-catching example shows advertising majors at Jinan University in Guangzhou standing in front of a banner which reads "Jinan University Advertising Department, you f***ed my youth!" Each graduate also holds a printout expressing his or her personal wish, such as finding a wealthy wife.
The picture predictably attracted a huge response.
"It is innovation," gushed one micro-blogger. "It is freedom."
"What a great campaign by ad majors," enthused Bill Bishop, an independent media consultant in Beijing. "Any ad agency would be lucky to have young folks who can create such a stir online so quickly."
Not everyone is impressed.
"Now the graduation photos of college students excessively pursue unconventional and new things in order to be different," said blogger Liang Mutian. "It's a bit too much!"
Chinese writer and cultural critic Liu Yang agreed. "If I hire people, I wouldn't hire any students from this university and would put this university on the blacklist."
But Liu's comments also came under fire.
"Why not look at the question with a more relaxed perspective?" asked one netizen known as Luzhou Gudao. "Maybe this last craziness will become the students' precious memories."
Another, called Jellyhahaha, wrote: "Come on, put me on the blacklist too. This picture shows the spirit of fighting for freedom in this so-called 'harmonious country.' I think the future of China can be even better if it is determined by these graduates instead of those treacherous fakers."
For some observers, the whole debate is about China's generation gap.
The older generation grew up experiencing the poverty and chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Governed by rigid rules and puritan conventions, they typically followed rules, or at least feigned compliance.
Three decades of economic reform and the "open-door" policy have brought higher living standards, a modern lifestyle and more freedom.
Traditional Chinese reticence is disappearing as a result.
Meanwhile, only children dominate the current generation of young Chinese -- a legacy of China's one-child policy, instituted in 1978.
They belong to a generation for whom prosperity and personal freedom are more the norm, rather the exception. China's opening to the outside world has made them better informed, extremely curious and adventurous.
Most of this year's graduating class belongs to the "jiu ling hou," or post-90s generation. Critics stereotype them as self-centered, naïve, spoiled and rebellious. They are also labeled as lazy, promiscuous and confused.
But others describe them as intelligent, innovative, curious and tech-savvy.
"These are misconceptions and sweeping over-generalizations," Zhao Ding, a 26-year-old white collar worker in Beijing. "We are different but we are maturing."
A survey conducted by the Horizon Research Group, a Beijing-based independent research firm, found that among 2,099 university and middle school students sampled from China's five largest cities, urban Chinese born in the 1990s have more disposable money and greater say in family spending.