I’ve seen your posts on instagram – celebrating your last final exams ever (don’t worry, there’s always grad school), flaunting your cap and gown, and generally getting all hot and bothered about finishing college.
You should be proud. Getting a college degree is quite an accomplishment, and one that has no doubt required some amount of hard work and personal growth both in and out of the classroom. With any luck you’ve learned a little bit, built at least one friendship that will last longer than your career, and fallen in love – be it with a person, a place, a profession, or all three.
Maybe you’re heading straight into grad school. In that case, godspeed. You have my admiration.
But maybe you’re not headed into grad school. Maybe you’re headed to a strange wilderness called a full-time career…or, for my fellow liberal arts grads, the welfare office. Either way, for the first time in 17+ years, you are free from the obligations of being a student. You can carve your way in the world without worrying about textbooks and group projects and dining hall dinners. The heady realization is enough to make a person hip thrust her way across the graduation stage.
Not that I know from experience or anything.
Whether you embarrass yourself on the jumbotron or not, post-college life feels wonderful.
Well, until sometimes it doesn’t.
Life in the post grad world is different from college life, no two ways about it. You can be simultaneously intoxicated by the freedom and possibilities and also scared straight out of your pants by the realization that you no longer have the scaffolding of formal academia guiding you on your way into Successful Adulthood.
You have the freedom to chase your dreams however you’d like, but what if you don’t make it? You can no longer count on falling back into the safety net of “next semester” if things don’t go as planned.
You can, however, fall back into the safety net that is your parents’ couch. Again, not speaking from experience.
Whether you end up in an entry-level position, the welfare office, or your dream job, post-grad life is going to have some surprises. See, just 24 months ago, I was doing the graduation thing you’re doing right now. And here I am, two years later, a bit more wise to the world but still charting my course on the seas of adulthood. The woman writing this today is oceans different from the girl in these photos, and I wish like hell that someone would have told that girl what I’m telling you.
It’s going to be hard at times, in ways you never saw coming.
You will question what the hell you are doing with your life.
You will feel strangely old, because you’re done with college, for Pete’s sake.
You will feel uncomfortably young, because you’re the newest kid on the block in your career.
You will start to discover who you are outside of the context of college and academia in general.
You will start seeing yourself as more of a professional and less of a student.
You will watch relationship dynamics shift as you and your peers leave the campus environment and forge your way in the career world.
You will pay your first student loans and it will make you nauseous, but oddly proud at the same time.
You will make mistakes, and you’ll kick yourself for them (and wonder how many more you’re made but just haven’t realized yet).
You will change – for better, and in some ways probably for worse, as well – and you will want more of it.
You will realize how much you learned in your short time on earth so far, and how much you have still to go.
You will surprise yourself.
Graduating from college is strange. It’s kind of like birth in that way – a time that is foreign in a wonderful, scary, joyous way. You wear a special cap and gown (and from a distance, no one can tell you apart from all the other
babies graduates), and everyone celebrates. You get a pat on the back side, your parents are relieved that you finally made it, and everyone wants see you and celebrate. You spend the day hooting and hollering and drinking out of bottles, and you may or may not be able to remember the day itself apart from the pictures that are taken.
You’ve ventured out from the comfortable confines of college and are in a world that is much harsher but also more exciting. You have the space to grow and stretch and learn and fall down and get back up and explore and make something of yourself that you haven’t yet imagined.
It might be difficult and messy at first (childbirth, you know), and it might be difficult and messy later (life, you know). You’ll be terrified at times, and you might have to walk through a few shadowed valleys.
But you’re also going to surprise yourself.
Hold tight to the winged spirit of adventure and joy and confidence that you rode across the stage at graduation. Remember how far you have come, and keep your sights set on the person you want to become.
Make wise choices with your money.
Take risks, calculated ones.
Pay your loans on time. (Snowball that ish.)
Take care of yourself.
Find things that bring you joy, and make them part of every day.
Set fantastic, monstrous, intimidating goals.
And you know what, college grad?
You’re going to surprise yourself.