Five months removed from my own unceremonious departure from college life – small schools don’t hold commemorate walks across fancy stages for the approximate eight kids that graduate in December – I’ve been thinking of writing a post to the class I would have walked with. I got my sentimental out last year when I wrote an Ode to the Class of 2015 & I’ve been thinking about this years, but of course I wanted to make it good and having been sufficiently sucked into the whirlwind that is Manhattan, have been putting it off until I have time to write it well.
I don’t have time. But this will have to do.
The following is a few unedited thoughts to someone jumping into post-grad life from someone who has been knee deep in it for five months and counting.
First, don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t an exciting time. Don’t buy into the hype that you should be scared and emotional and falling apart. Sentimental is okay – hell, I live and die by a good line of poetry but if you think for a second that what you’re leaving behind is better than what lies ahead, think again.
You want to know the truth about graduation?
It is the greatest freedom you’ve ever felt.
Remember when you left for college? Suddenly you were miles away from your parents and guardians and there was nobody to tell you not to eat ice cream for dinner. You could walk to your friend’s apartment at midnight to watch a movie and the only thing stopping you was the guilt of the paper proposal you left in your dorm room.
That may have been the first taste of “freedom” you had. Freedom to decide what classes you took maybe, or what you ate for lunch. Freedom to decide how you spent your free time and what activities you got involved in. But despite all that, at the end of the day, were you to continue onto the path that led you to this cap and gown, you had to go to class. You had to complete your assignments. And I’d hope you had to study just a little.
And then you graduate.
And the entire world opens up to you.
For perhaps the first time in your life, you are completely free to do whatever it is you choose. Maybe you’ll go to grad school or maybe you’ll travel. Maybe you’ll move home and save money or maybe you’ll move to a city where you don’t know a single person. Maybe you’ll look for a full-time job or maybe you’ll work three part-time jobs while pursuing your side passion project. Maybe you’ll still eat ice cream for dinner and feel a little guilty about spending all day with a book instead of your job applications.
But it’s up to you.
The amazing thing about graduation – at least for me – was this completely freeing ability to do whatever I wanted. And so I became a loose cannon, jumping the pond to Europe and then back to New York where I currently live and work.
People will ask you what your plans are – they always do and while that can be a source of frustration you have to recognize that it is being asked with good intentions. And answering it is half the fun.
I mean we’ve all been there – the fear of living up to some expectation. When someone asks you what you’re doing after college, you almost feel obligated to give some great answer based on four or so years of education. The psychology major needs to talk about the great graduate program he got into to continue his education and be one step closer to achieving his dreams. The accounting major has to talk about the great firm he just signed on with while also providing documentation of his great studio apartment in a thriving metropolis. The education major feels pushed to apply for teaching job after teaching job until he can finally say he’s found his new school.
But what if we didn’t live up to those expectations? What if I told you that you could take jobs that are totally outside your field of study? What if I told you that you didn’t have to take a job at all? What if I told you that you could take a week, a month, a year to travel or write or pursue that one thing that you always say you’ll do “later.”
You just graduated college. Now is the later.
I genuinely enjoy when people ask me what my plans are because truth be told, for the first time in my life, I don’t have any. I have lots of ideas, sure, but right now, I am just a 21-year-old college graduate living in the biggest city in America, completely unattached and completely able to truly take opportunities as they come.
The moment you realize you don’t have to fall into a mold of predictability and expectations, the sooner you realize how open the world is. You can do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. There’s nothing holding you back anymore.
College won’t be the best 4 or so years of your life. Not even close. It’s what comes after that’s the good stuff. And with every night of uncertainty and every rejected job application and every night eating burnt popcorn for dinner because you just wanted to get the most bang for your buck and make sure all the kernels popped – you will be better.
You had 4 or so years that prepared for what’s next. Now, forget everything you think you’re supposed to do and go do that thing you believe in.
Dear Class of 2016, you’ll be just fine. Trust me.