May 18, 2008
"What are you doing after graduation?"
I can say with relative certainty that many of my compatriots have felt ill at ease with these six simple words. Its a deceptively complicated inquiry, and I admit that I have asked my fellow classmates this very question in the past few months, with the generic response of rolling eyes and a long, deep groan, or an uncomfortable, nervous laugh. I asked a good friend of mine what he planned on doing after leaving Hobart and he looked at me and said "You know, Alyssa," he paused, continued to drink his beer, and just said, "I don't know", shrugging his shoulders. I cannot speak for others about the emotions behind their respective responses, whether they are filled with anxiety or excitement about their college careers coming to a close, but what I am going to do is share with the graduating classes of 2008 the only words of comfort I have to offer,
It's okay that you don't know.
So why are we so apprehensive about what comes next?
In the psych department, we call it "Separation Anxiety". We've become comfortable here, and with good reason. We've grown, flourished, made lifelong friends, traveled abroad, and had countless other invaluable experiences, all while earning a degree along the way. It's impressive; give yourself a pat on the back. For the past few weeks, each of us has thought long and hard about what's next. We've thought about leaving our friends, and we've hugged them a bit longer each time we see them as a result. We've felt the frustration of job searches and trips to the post office to see if there's a letter waiting from that certain Grad school, only to leave the mailroom muttering and scowling. And there are times of elation when we get that special phone call we've been anxiously waiting for. We're sad about leaving Hobart and William Smith Colleges, but in that regard, we will never truly leave HWS. If you have any doubt about the accuracy of that statement, just think: The Fundraising Committee will be on your back — calling you until the day you die.
The real world is daunting. We're adults, which means we have to do adult things like go to work every day (Since it's not like class and we can't skip), find a place to live, and of course, manage to afford to eat and simultaneously pay bills and foreboding student loans, which no doubt we all have incurred. What being a graduate does not entail, however, is knowing exactly what we're going to do with the remainder of our lives. Being inflexible isn't a quality that many strive to personify, and with good reason. While plans provide a certain degree of comfort and stability in an ever-changing world, there are consequences when people rely too heavily on a preconceived scheme; in fact they are seldom prepared for any occurrences that force them to deviate from their plan.
Granted, it's nice to have a general idea of what you want and where you want to be, but things are going to happen that you don't expect. You don't need a ten-year plan. For that matter, you don't need a five-year plan. Our liberal arts education was not designed to provide you with knowledge directly, but rather to "teach you how to think." We've been given an inconceivable amount of freedom with our education and from here on out we will carry not only the knowledge we've obtained from our courses, but also the power to use that knowledge in the real world. We've spent the past four years preparing to do great things and affect positive change in the world. So don't be trip yourself up by worrying unnecessarily about the future. Don't be afraid to improvise — and don't be afraid if you haven't the slightest idea what you're going to do immediately after this ceremony is over — I certainly don't.
That being said, don't worry about those student loans just yet; there's usually a grace period. What you probably don't know is that there's also a moratorium on living with your parents.
There's a tremendous amount of pressure on graduates to succeed, and at times we all feel like Atlas; the weight of the world on our shoulders. Don't let your desire to achieve great things become a burden, and don't become your own worst enemy. Don't be afraid, go out into the world and do something. Go hiking, get a job, take a course, go sailing, teach someone, give some of your time away. Sometimes you're going to make mistakes, you're going to be criticized, and you're going to fail. But the mistakes you make are necessary, and you will learn from them and you will grow wiser for having lived through them. Remember that even when you fall on your face, you're still moving forward. For this reason, I wish all of you successes and failures, easy times and difficult times, joy and sadness, and most of all, I wish you the best of luck.