The Five Stages of Graduation Grief

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There are two things I hate: change and uncertainty. Graduation weekend brought both for me. During college, I studied abroad, found my major, interned and gained invaluable career experiences. And although the thought of the future absolutely terrifies me, I need to find independence and truly adult like a real adult. Consequently, I’ve gone through the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—when dealing with the reality of my current postgraduate situation. With pending job offers in the city, some students can’t wait to graduate college and move on to the next stage of their lives. For me, I face post-graduation a little differently. As soon as I stepped onto the stage wearing my cap and gown, reality set in. This is not a dream. This was really happening.

1. Denial

About two weeks into my freshman year, I rushed a sorority and made some of my best friends. They helped me construct perfectly-thought-out texts before I sent them to a guy, gave me reality checks when I needed to get my head out of the clouds and, most importantly, never judged me. Whenever a boy broke my heart or I failed an exam, they were there for me. Each new friend who came into my life during college made me a better person. So after crossing the stage, we’ll just go back to my apartment and continue like nothing is going to change, right?

2. Anger

I’ll be super bummed about missing game days. Dressing up for games was a must. Wearing my school colors, hair bows, shirts, knee-high socks and Converse is all but required. Sure, as an adult you have grown-up brunch and dinners, but nothing beats tailgating in the fields with mimosas for noon games and drinking cans of Natty Light that we all hate but drink anyway because it’s just so college. I’ll even miss watching the game, except if it was a noon game. August heat shows mercy on no one. Although my legs ached from standing the entire game, I wouldn’t trade my time in the student section for anything. I’ll never forget the sheer anger and disappointment after losing against PSU’s biggest rival, Ohio State, last year when the game went to overtime. Who knows if those questionable calls altered the eventual outcome of the game? I’ll miss the chicken baskets, white outs, chanting in the student section, the close scores and singing the alma mater once the game ends with 107,000 fans in Beaver stadium and watching the Nittany Lions dominate from the student section.

3. Bargaining

Never again will I find a bar with a five-dollar max cover or happy hour where everything is half off—something actually affordable for all of us living the broke-college-student life. Bar hopping for $20 may not be feasible in the “real world,” but it should be. College is the time for carefree nights with friends and staying out until the bar closes. Some of my favorite nights include getting a five-dollar monkeyboy on a Saloon Thursday and jamming to My Hero Zero with my best friends. If I could just go back for just one night, I promise I’ll never order a second monkeyboy before midnight. Let me have one more night at the State College bar scene, and I promise to never take these nights for granted.

4. Depression

Actually having to drive places and not being in close proximity to almost everything definitely changes now that I’m no longer in a college town. After a night at those magical college bars, a five-minute walk to get a breakfast sandwich (the hangover food of the gods) was all you needed when you’re reminded that the last pitcher was probably a bad idea. Being walking distance from classes, bars, friends’ apartments and restaurants proved extremely helpful when laziness plagued me. Once I start working, I may have to actually wake up earlier than my first class at 9:45 a.m. How ungodly is that?

5. Acceptance

Like most communications majors, graduation came with indecision. I graduated with a degree and no job, yet. For the last 21 years, everything was laid out, from elementary school, to middle school, to high school, to Penn State. Graduation approached quickly, and I couldn’t avoid it. Now, I’ve accepted my fate and am off into the world, unsure of what tomorrow has to offer. It may seem terrifying, but I am confident that this next chapter in my life will bring new and exciting opportunities.

I’ll miss the beautiful campus I called home for the past four years, so before I left I made sure to stare a little longer and take that mental picture (and Snapchat), because my time was running short. Never again will I have the luxury to just pass by these historic buildings underclassmen take for granted. Although I’m devastated to leave, I take comfort in my major accomplishments like being on the dean’s list for three semesters, finding my lifelong best friends and learning about myself along the way.

Rachel is a Penn State University senior studying print journalism. She loves John Hughes movies, Audrey Hepburn and all things travel.

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