You’re there, that place that glimmered so far in the future that it was almost impossible to imagine.
Do you remember arriving, that freshman moment when you first saw all those seniors? They seemed so full of worldliness, glossy with it. And you were floundering, trying to find your room, the student centre, the various lecture halls, the laundry, struggling with student IDs, which classes you should take, how to find friends, missing your old ones, missing so much, wary of so many things.
Do you remember feeling alone in all the newness of it all, finding it unimaginable that you could ever get anywhere near that glossy knowingness?
But you did, and here you are, except that often it doesn’t feel as burnished now that you’re here, now that it’s your turn.
How can it feel golden whilst juggling the toxic mix of sleep deprivation and finals deadlines, both looming over you like some horrendous interactive 3D horror flick, body and brain scattered in all directions?
How can you find a way to hand in a thesis, an independent study, an essay or paper, when it feels so far from the sparkling version that you had imagined in your mind’s eye?
How can you sit an exam, your brain frozen for fear of questions that you did not revise for, or based on that book that you never had time to read?
And how can you deal with the seemingly endless round of rushed good-byes? Everyone leaving, friends whose lives have intertwined so intensely with yours—that moment when you have pulled yet another all-nighter, and then one of your best of the best friends knocks on your door, heading for an early train, and you can’t tell whether you are blinded by exhaustion or tears as you hug ‘good-bye’.
On top of all this, how can you even begin to see beyond the finish line of graduation to what lies beyond, that endless savannah of ‘the future’ that you feel so ill-equipped to face?
Then comes That Moment…gowned, hand on head, holding in place the strange sitting there. In this particular blur of time how do you juggle your parents, the endless photographs, diluting family with your friends, keeping boyfriends or girlfriends away from family, or introducing them for the first time, hand still on head, trying to hold that bizarre mark of academe in place?
That’s the most important thing to know. The best, the most you can do, is to find a manageable compromise and to find a way to allow yourself to accept…
- that you are simply exhausted, possibly irritable, probably volatile, but this is how it is, and it is how it is for everyone else as well.
- that you cannot achieve the imagined standard of work, and that there is a victory enough in being able to hand it in, or in sitting papers at all, considering that you are probably functioning as about 35% of your full capacity, the other 65% mired in lack on sleep.
- That, well, to use statistics for a moment, the highest percentage of lasting friendships are formed in college. You may be saying bleary ‘good-byes’ now, but they are, for the most part, temporary. Away from the crude statistics it is just humanly right to feel emotional at this point because you are bidding farewell to something else—that delicate and rich space that hovers between childhood and full adulthood. It is a time that will not come again. It needs to be marked.
And then there will be a commencement speech—someone inspiring, booked to stir your soul, and to make your family or supporters believe that their money was well-spent. There may be wise words, a life-enhancing feel good send off, perhaps some cautionary tales, or perhaps you will barely even hear it, the words fall down around you, your brain too tired to make sense of them.
This is where the last part of the graduation list comes in. The commencement speech might tap into and enrich your excitement, but it could leave you uninspired, and simply dreading what lies beyond.
The future presents a kind of freedom that you may well not have experienced before. For some it means being able to make decisions for yourself for perhaps the first time. It an be when you begin to find your way towards your future relationship with those who have watched over you, perhaps paid for you all the way, and hence held sway over many aspects of your decision-making to date.
Some relish this idea, this freedom to choose, and to take responsibility for those choices. Others can be paralysed by this, sometimes just because of a lack of experience in decision-making.
Graduation is symbolic, however much it may have been diminished by time and fashion. It still marks the point when you step away from the main structure of your life to date, those seventeen or so years of education that have led you to this point, sometimes gladly and sometimes kicking and screaming.
This entry point to the future needs anchor points.
Writing it down
I am not particularly in favour of suggestions, and certainly not advice, but I have never regretted being forced to write down how I felt about my life when I was 22. I thought it was a slightly bizarre idea at the time but I still did it, mainly to humour the slightly scary person who had prescribed it.
Sometimes I re-read what I wrote then and realise how, in spite of all the spinning emotions and exhaustion of that time, I did have a clearer sense of myself than I realised.
I do remember feeling that almost every aspect of my life was out of control, and yet I still managed to put down what mattered to me at that moment. Some of it directly reflected what was happening around me at the time. Many of those things have fallen away over the years. Yet there were other aspects of my life that I seem to have had a clear sense of then. These have lasted to the extent that they have been the central drivers of my life.
The good and the bad of it
Perhaps you have been disappointed? Maybe this whole process has failed to be the gleaming experience that you had hoped it would be. If so then you may be in for a surprise. The future may be easier than you anticipate because you have already learnt how to handle disappointment. This gives you an advantage, even before you put on your mortar board and gown.
But if it has been a golden time, you may need to understand that another lesson lies in store—learning to absorb disappointment because life may now not match up to these past three or four heady years.
There is a good reason why so many people refer to their college years as the high-point of their life. Some found that everything after graduation was a disappointment, and instead of learning to face this, they were defeated by this sense, simply because they had not experienced it before.
But disappointment and perceived failure have the capacity to be rocket fuel. It’s about switching your point of view, and finding a way to see both as resilience-builders, psychological training for the mind that prepares you for anything and everything—the university of life in its fullest sense.
So, if you can, if you have the energy, write down who you are, and how you feel about life, now, at this turning point in your life.
The future will then have its first compass setting.
And for those I know who are graduating now…
It has been such a pleasure to work with you, and to learn from you.