Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Graduation: My Thoughts One Year Later

Wow.  I can't believe that it's been one full year since I walked across the stage at my graduation.

Just a year ago I saw this banner across Upper College Road and realized, oh.  I'm a college graduate!

This past weekend has been one full of graduations, as I watch my friends and family take this giant step for themselves.  As I watched them with pride I've asked myself, how has this year changed me?  Do I feel any different?  Where has the time gone?

I've accomplished much in this past year; I've grown as a person, met my goals, made life changing decisions...yet I feel little difference.  I guest that's not entirely true, I'm much happier post-college, but as a whole I feel quite unchanged; I feel no wiser nor more grown-up.

I thought I would feel 'it' when I picked up my cap and gown last spring.  But I felt nothing.  I thought, I must have to wait until I moved out of my dorm for the last time.  But that just felt no different then going on summer break.

So it had to be the day of graduation as I officially donned the cap and gown with my 2012 tassels.  Nope.  When I walked across the stage?  When I threw my cap in the air?  When I got home after the ceremony!?

And now, a year later it still doesn't really feel like much.  I'm merely surprised that instead of "Congratulations to the Class of 2012," I see "Congratulations to the Class of 2013."

(Granted the whole of graduation day was miserable.  All (but one) of my best friends, including my boyfriend, were unable to attend; my finishing his own senior year back in Spain, one was in England, another in China, one stuck in New Jersey, another in Spain, and one at her own graduation in Maine.  To make matters worse I couldn't afford the honor cord for my honor society and was too proud to have my loved ones pay for it.  And then the icing on the cake was when they pronounced my name wrong as I walked across the stage.  Oh well.

So the day itself was a bust...but I should have felt something after right?  Some sense of accomplishment?  I mean I had won multiple awards for my student teaching, paid my way through most of the four years myself, and graduated with honors in a double major while working multiple jobs every year.  While you should feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at graduation, because through your hard-work you have done something amazing, you most likely won't have an epiphany after walking across that stage.  In fact to me, it almost felt anti-climatic.  That it's?  I've graduated?  Now what?

Graduation day will come and go, and the whole summer will pass after you walked across that stage and you won't feel much different.  Then September rolls around and all your friends that didn't graduate are heading back to school.  You'll see those statuses of them hanging out together late at night, going for impromptu drinks, going out to parties, weekend getaways, complaints about classes or professors, and the latest campus gossip.  You'll watch as they post pictures doing the things you used to do, attending the events you used to attend, and participating in the organizations you used to be a part of.

You should feel relieved; no more college drama, no more coursework, no more gen. eds., no more dorm rooms, no more exams, or all nighters.  But you don't think like that.

It hits you, not that you've taken this huge step forward in your life, but that you are stuck in limbo.  You don't belong to the life you had before, but you're still on the cusp of the adult world and don't really fit in there either.  As you watch you friends live their college lives from this glass divide you'll miss the freedom and sense of community you once had back in college.  You'll miss feeling included and knowing there was always a place for you.  Many of those college 'friends' won't last long as you move on from your studies.  They'll be living their life on their college schedule and for many it just won't work with your post-college life.

You'll feel totally unprepared for the real world and its expectations.  All of my teaching experiences, teaching courses, and practicums did not prepare me for my first day of substitute teaching.  For walking into a classroom in a school you don't know, full of students you don't know, to teach lessons from a teacher that you just. do. not. know.  I was terrified.  I was unprepared.  Did I really want to be a teacher?  It was then as I walked into that strange classroom, months after graduation, that I realized I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my life.

No one told me that I still would be unsure; you're supposed to know these things after you graduate right?  Now some of you may have jobs lined up, some may be going off to graduate school, but the rest of us.  What do we do now?

Let me tell you a secret all you new graduates, one that would have saved me a lot of tears and anxiety.  The truth is that it's perfectly okay and absolutely normal to walk off that stage and not know what to do next.  Nobody, other than yourself, expects you to have the entirety of your future planned out so soon.

The reality is that you may (most likely will) not get your dream job for a very long time.  The job market is still not at its best and it really is hard to find to find a steady, well-paying job for new graduates.  I applied for multiple teaching jobs only to find out that over 300 people applied for each of them too.  And why would they hire people with such little real-life experience?  This can be a hard pill to swallow, after all that's why you got that degree; to get that big kid job you've dreamed of.  Just know you are not the only one struggling with this.  Try your best not to feel bitter or unaccomplished, especially if you know some young friend who scores their dream job right away.  Here you are, working multiple part-time jobs trying to make ends meet while you budget your heart out and try to make sense of all your student loans.  At this point you're probably well into those post-grad blues; wondering why was graduation good in the first place?


Did you really enjoy college that much?  How quickly you've forgtten how much you hated most of your classes and couldn't stand all those exams and homework that seemed so pointless.  And those friends who lose contact with you because you have different schedules, they weren't the important ones anyway.  Your true friends will always try to make your schedules work and even if it takes months to find the time, you'll realize that once you're reunited nothing has changed between you.  I don't miss college.  Sure I miss the freedom, having my friends so near, and the memories I've made.  Yeah I get nostalgic when I visit certain parts of campus now, but do I miss the actual college part?  You know studying, interning, classes, homework, pleasing professors? No, just the comfort and security college offered; as a baby blanket is to the child afraid of the dark unknown.

And of course you will feel unprepared!  Only real experience can truly prepare you.  You have to throw yourself out there, fall down, and pick yourself back up again to truly be prepared for the real world.  Turns out that first substitute job that I was so terrified over reaffirmed my life decision.  But would I have known that if I hadn't graduated?  I've learned far more about teaching in this past year of substitute teaching than I have learned in any practicum experience I had in college.  Throwing myself out there made me realize I didn't need that baby blanket, I didn't need the protection of being in college.  I could do this on my own and I have so much more to learn with the years of experience to come.

And those first jobs you so eagerly applied to but didn't get...so what?  You're young and you have years upon years to work that big kid job.  If you can find a job that relates in any way, shape, or form to what you want to do with your life, snatch it up.  If you can't, then find any job that pays the bills, work your butt off, and apply like crazy to jobs you want.  And if neither apply, well than save up some money and live your dreams; travel the world, do what you've always wanted, live your life.  It probably wasn't your dream job anyway.

So yes.  Graduating college is scary.  You'll feel uncertain and unprepared, and maybe like me you won't feel anything for the longest time.  The change to yourself comes slowly; over time, over experiencing the new exciting (yet often scary) things of the adult world.  You won't know you're changing, you won't feel a bit different.  But you'll get out there and start to realize post-college life is not so bad.  You'll make mistakes and learn from them.  You'll have jobs you'll love and jobs you hate.  But always remember, don't settle for anything if it makes you unhappy.  You will survive this.  You're young and (most of us) have so few real responsibilities holdings us back.  So take advantage of that, take a leap of faith, and live so that when you look years back from now you won't regret how you spent that youth.

So back to me a year after graduation.  I knew after sacrificing so much to be able to afford college I had to take advantage of my youth and my desire to travel, so I applied to teach abroad.  I will officially be moving to Spain this fall to teach English as an English assistant in Madrid with the government program Auxiliares de Conversación.  BEDA contacted me recently on the wait-list to see if I was still interested in available positions, but I said no thank you.  While it seems like an amazing program, I'm a firm believer in that things happen if they're supposed to happen and everything is a learning experience.  I accepted Auxiliares and my decision just feels right.  And for the first time after graduation I am perfectly content not knowing exactly what my future holds.

So congratulations graduating class of 2013.  Don't let those post-grad blues get you down or make you doubt your passions.  Post-college life a heck of a ride, but I truly believe that as long as you follow your heart and do what makes you happy, you can make your ever-changing dreams a reality.  We can get through this together.  I leave you all with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies:
"Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."-Robin Williams, Dead Poet's Society

What has your experience been like post-graduation?  How are you new graduates feeling?

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