The final countdown of days left until graduation is slowly trickling down into single digits. Yet, in all my excitement leading up to the commencement ceremony, one nagging question keeps stealing my relief: “What are your plans after graduation?” Every family member, mentor, professor, classmate, friend, stranger on Facebook and neighbor’s cousin’s dog sitter would like to know. I alternate between laughing it off with a funny excuse or just deciding to make up a fake life plan on the spot. Yet the more this pesky question keeps being thrown at me, the more I’m tempted to throw my diploma in the trash.
During a senior meeting about graduation last month, a career counselor encouraged the seniors packed in the stadium bleachers to play a game. Every senior stood up as the career counselor read a series of statements. Once a statement applied to a student, he or she had to sit down.
The first statement, “Sit down if you have a job lined up after graduation,” made the majority of my classmates sit down. The second, “Sit down if you have been accepted into graduate school,” brought another round to their seats. The third, “Sit down if you will work for a non-profit or volunteer organization,” sent an additional wave back into the bleachers.
After the three statements, the remaining students were left standing, silently labeled as stragglers. As a straggler myself, I looked around the room at the faces of my fellow graduating classmates. Some alongside me quickly sat down. Others blushed, looking embarrassed. The counselor, though presumably only having good intentions, single handedly called out the undecided for one last schoolyard public humiliation. Oblivious to this consequence, she continued her spiel. In her well-prepared speech, she urged us to utilize the resources at Career Services to figure out our lives like our classmates who have job offers lined up, have been accepted into impressive law and medical schools or have agreed to selflessly devote their time to non-profit organizations.
While I am beyond ecstatic for all of their success and that their futures are starting to fall into place, that future is great for them. Because there’s still a small segment—including me—who has no freakin’ idea what they’re doing after graduation. And I think that’s perfectly okay.
While I’m completely fine with the decision to leave college without a job, graduate school or service mission, others aren’t. When I tell people my no-plan plan, they offer me solutions. They desperately throw applications and connections at me as last-ditch efforts to make sure I don’t graduate college as a failure. But what they fail to realize is that I’m okay with not having a plan. In fact, I’m ecstatic about “failing” the college grad expectations.
I’ve spent the last four years maintaining a high GPA to keep my scholarship money, working part-time jobs to afford a social life and attempting to keep up with the craziness of my schedule packed with club meetings, coffee dates and cat naps. Now, I’ve finally reached the end. Not only am I walking away with a diploma, but also bruises I’ve learned from and scars I wear proud. And what do I want to do next? Sleep. Well for the first year, at least.
Jokes aside, for once my future is unstructured and undecided. Maybe I’ll become a barista in North Park, couch surf my way around Ocean Beach or travel back to Prague (though probably unlikely with those student loan bills coming in the mail). I could move to my promised land of Seattle, even if I don’t land my dream job as a writer. I could possibly pick up a flyer tacked to a board at a coffee shop and apply for a temp-job answering phones. On the side, I could start a really shitty grunge band, then realize I didn’t inherit father’s musical genius and opt to manage one instead. I may fall in love or fix a few friendships that need mending. Perhaps I’ll do all of these things. But I could also do none of them.
The unknown is scary. I’ve spent my whole life trying to skirt around it. But now, as my known path comes to an end, I’m excited to embrace the unexpected. I’m excited to let go and let life take its course, even if it’ll come with a few bumps and screw me over from time to time.
So for those of you seniors graduating without a plan, don’t let the pressure around you force you into a future you don’t want. The point is: not knowing is okay. Not having a plan won’t be the end of the world. After years of stress and structure, it’s time for us grads to celebrate how far we’ve come. Sure, we can’t live our entire lives without a paycheck. Eventually we’ll need to get our shit together. But why is there such a rush to figure everything out now? Let’s grab our diplomas, celebrate our success with a few drinks and lean on each other as we figure out the rest of our lives.