For some college students, the August heat, prospect of autumn and its subsequent “second summer,” means the beginning of unexpected adventures, challenges and rewards that the school year will bring. For a handful of students, though, the year marks the beginning of an end – and a time for reflection.
In an age when many of us knew from a very young age that we would be attending college, maybe because our families were lucky enough to have the money to send us or because we were taught that we would not succeed in life without a bachelor’s degree, this may be the first time that a major chapter of our lives is closing and the next chapter is completely up in the air. There is no longer a guidebook or a script to go by. After 20 years of essentially trusting that those around us knew what was best for us, we are suddenly expecting to know it for ourselves.
1) Many of our friends, and certainly the students we looked up to as role models, are now graduated and moved on. Suddenly we are the ones that others look up to, whether we know it or not. But we are imposters. We still do not have it all figured out. We barely have some of it figured out.
2) For those of us already preparing for the next chapter in our lives by turning in applications, either to other schools or to jobs, our final year at college already feels like it is slipping away. We are wrapping up all our large projects, rarely starting new ones. It becomes increasingly evident that, for the most part, we have already accomplished most of what we will accomplish in college. Sometimes it seems like our whole educational careers have been leading up to this moment – this one complete résumé.
Did we do college right? If we kept our heads in the books, should we have gone out more? Or should we have worked harder for our grades? Could we have achieved more?
3) Soon we will be making big decisions like renting apartments or buying houses for the first time, moving away to new cities, paying much more complicated taxes. Did any of our education prepare us for these steps? Are we supposed to start wearing eye cream now?
4) Unlike generations before us, we have no guarantee that jobs are actually out there waiting for us, even with our degrees. Every guidance counselor and career specialist tells us to “market” ourselves and focus on what makes us “unique” so that we stand out in the stacks of résumés. But what if every student works hard, makes good grades, boasts work experience and volunteers? What if we are just the same?
5) Is that a grey hair?
6) There are a number of people in our lives, friends and family alike, who have not seen us or heard from us since our last graduation. Come May they might be expecting an invitation, or at least a Facebook post, about our graduation. They will only see a tiny fraction of our experience and accomplishments, but we still want them to be proud and impressed.
Sometimes the scariest thing about being on the verge of graduation is thinking that we are alone in the process. The fact that many of our peers have already moved on, and that life as we know it – including our homes, our professors and our work – will soon be left behind is a very lonely idea.
Or maybe the scariest thing is that no one has the answers for us, and that we have to figure them out ourselves. The truth is, even after 15 years or so of schooling that is all supposed to prepare us for this moment – adulting – we still feel lost, as if no one ever told us we would have to do it this way. All the preparation in the world could not prepare us for starting new lives. At least we might take comfort in recognizing that we are all just floating along, all as clueless as each other. Who’s to say the “adults” know what they are doing anyway?
By Gwyneth Navey