Dear Recent Graduate,
You’ve made it! Today is the day! For the past four years (more or less) this has been the goal, to graduate from your undergraduate studies, and finally you are about to walk across that stage and receive the recognition that you deserve. You know you deserve it, because you worked so hard the whole time. Okay, you worked so hard most of the time. You read until your brain sizzled or until you fell asleep sitting at your desk with your face on your open text book. You scheduled office hours with professors, you stayed up all night writing papers that you hoped wouldn’t sound like they were written by a delirious person at 3 am. You attended all of your classes. Most of your classes. Sometimes 8 am was just too early to be out in public, learning things. You had a crazy roommate (or several), you made some awesome memories, some pretty bad mistakes, and some really great friends.
Now, the day is here. You have reached the peak, the summit, the apex. You show up to the huge auditorium dressed like a professional adult with clean hair and everything. All your family and friends are there. Amid a sea of hundreds of people dressed in robes and hoods and tassels, you make your way to your designated spot and wait for everything to begin. You and hundreds of other people process to your seats, and then sit while the president of the school speaks. The valedictorian speaks.Then the student president speaks. Then a lot of people that you don’t know get awards that you didn’t know existed. Then someone who is most likely not a famous person gives the keynote address, and says some cool things that you probably only remember for a few weeks. Now they call every student’s name and you get your 12 seconds to walk across the stage and receive an empty diploma holder to the sound of a few family members and friends cheering from the bleachers far away. Six hours after you arrive, you leave amid the same sea of robes and hoods and tassels while “Pomp and Circumstance” plays in the background.
See, the thing about reaching the peak, the summit, the apex, is that once you reach the top, there is most likely a slope heading back down on the other side. I am not at all trying to be cynical or discouraging about graduation or college, in fact college was an amazing experience and I know that graduation is meant to be a huge culminating event to celebrate your successes and signify the beginning of your glorious future. Maybe that is a valid way to describe graduation, but it seemed very anticlimactic to me.
After the big dramatic event was over, I found myself with a bad case of post graduation let down, and I know for a fact that I am not the only one. I had a profound feeling of dread because even after months of everyone asking me what my plan was, I was still figuring it out. I know a lot of grads are in the same situation, stuck on the perpetual merry-go-round of infinite options. Grad school? Med school? Spend a year traveling? Move back home? Volunteer, because that’s what adults do? Find a job, quick. Buy a car. Meet someone to marry, because whoops, I didn’t do that in college. Start paying back my student loans. Oh yeah. Student loans.
Reality hits hard, and it sure does burst that self-esteem bubble you spent so many years growing. With no clear next step, with a mountain of debt, with your friends parting ways, with a fancy degree and nothing to show for it yet, it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed and lost and inadequate. It doesn’t help when you get a letter in the mail from your alma mater six months after graduation asking you to donate money to the school (WHAT MONEY?! you calmly think to yourself).
When faced with the question of “What do I do now?”, maybe the best answer is, do something. Do anything. Try everything. Remember that the job you have now will probably not be the one you have until retirement, and that you have time to find the perfect job. You have to start somewhere, and somewhere usually means at the bottom of the food chain. It’s also good to remember that there is no such thing as the perfect job; a job is really only as wonderful as you make it. If you can’t find a job right away, keep looking, but in the mean time, read a book, for fun. Remember what that’s like? Keep in mind that it’s perfectly acceptable for you to be poor at this time in your life. Therefore, it is okay to buy cheap wine and eat rice and beans and cereal every day. Maybe just have some vegetables every once in a while and go on a run. If you are living in your old childhood room back at your parents’ house, first thank them profusely, and then remind yourself that it is only temporary. Be grateful that your family is willing and generous enough to help you save money on rent. Also, please please please remember that people only show versions of themselves on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter that they want everyone to see; don’t assume that every moment of their lives is fabulous just because they know how to take really great selfies. If you lived a day in the life of one of your peers, you would find that, they too, do not have it all together- you just don’t get to see all the dull and stressful parts of that person’s life. You should always set goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if your plans don’t work out, and don’t you dare let yourself indulge in destructive feelings of self-pity and entitlement. Do not sabotage all your efforts by wasting the time and energy to feel sorry for yourself.
Do anything and everything, just do not become stagnant, and do not become complacent. Ride out the feelings of inadequacy and self-disappointment and uncertainty about the future, and keep working to become a fabulous human being. You may be coming down off your peak now, but there are many more mountains to climb and summits to reach, each one higher than the last. Always, always cultivate your hope for the future; in the end, hope can sustain you through anything that the world can heap on your shoulders.
So grads, carpe diem and heartfelt congratulations to all of you, be proud of all of your hard work and accomplishments. It really does get better, I promise. Did you have a post grad let down? Are you in the middle of one right now? We would love to hear about it and commiserate!