What do college and Wal-Mart have in common? Both institutions give you equal reasons to love and hate them. Just as we leave Wal-Mart with a cart full of groceries way too high in calories and low in nutrition for a price, we enter college knowing that, at some point, we will disembark the wilds of our university life a changed person, for better or worse, with a diploma boasting the time and work spent there.
Yet when what sits between you and the real world is a single or a few classes, you feel as if the moment has come too soon. Your anticipation and surprise at the end’s sudden arrival remains without the long road to travel ahead of you. Finally ditching campus and giving a definite “peace out” to the life we’ve cultivated for four to five years doesn’t exactly excites us, but it feels extremely satisfying to put a punctuation mark on the often trying times of your college experience.
Your graduation simultaneously has you begging to continue and end with the same amount of intensity.
The reality of college’s impermanence struck first when I opened my student account to the news that my financial aid had hit for my final semester and that I would not have to worry about significant academic finances again for the foreseeable future. Those who will continue their studies through grad school may find it harder to sympathize with the conclusiveness of my experience. But those who plan to take a break from school after their undergrad might find the statement “Amount Due: $0.00” as much a divine proclamation of the end as I did.
After that, grad prep starts. Graduation photos, grad checks, ordering your cap and gowns, sending out thank you cards. The final semester seems so stacked with graduation-related responsibilities that you easily forget from minute to minute the idea of you still having classes to pass. My own final semester only consisted of one class that fulfilled an overlooked credit hour. The daunting task of preparing to leave college made my actual coursework feel like an extracurricular by comparison.
While getting all this prep work together felt tiresome, I could not help but feel a small sense of joy as the semester reached its close. While the finances involved with paying a photographer and purchasing a cap and gown annoyed me, I, as well as the other destitute students just looking towards the end of the tunnel, couldn’t help but smile when I first laid eyes on the robes I would don when I walk across the stage for my diploma. This satisfaction amid strife feels representative of the entire experience of leaving college. It will ultimately turn out great, and we will more than likely feel elated to have left the collegiate world behind. With that elation, however, might come a piercing feeing that maybe college gave me some of my best years.
I don’t wish to go off on a tangent with the whole “have fun while you can in college because it doesn’t last forever” medley.
It seems like a fairly obvious sentiment that you surely have heard before. I only wish to convey that leaving school, or at least coming to the end of school, is an experience way more complicated than I originally presumed. I thought it would amount to a simple, “Welp, that was fun,” reaction rather than the “Wait, it’s already time?” one I had. When people talk about leaving, they always reference aspects like “no more classes” or “I can finally get a real job.” But no one really articulates some of the difficult truths in the months leading up to your exit.
I did not prepare for some difficulties such as leaving behind some of my friends an academic year younger. While I hope they continue the fun we’ve had as a group in the upcoming school year, the idea that I’ll have left them behind to get into more wild shenanigans without me leaves me with a sense of melancholy. No more impromptu visits to parties around campus. No more playing dangerously with fire on apartment countertops. And, most notably, no more late night trips to after-club hours fast food restaurants. Some of the most memorable moments of my four-and-a-half-year college stint came from those nights hanging out with friends and various other intoxicated students.
I could go on and on about a lot of idiosyncratic things that I will come to miss about my college years, but the same big scary monster awaits behind the proverbial after-college curtain for all of us. This monster comes in the form of the so-called “real-world” itself. While some of us use college to come to an understanding of what we ultimately want out of life and what we want to do for the rest of it, those who share my sensibilities find ourselves leaving school with the same indecisiveness with which we entered. Despite my course of study, I still cannot say with conviction that I know what I want to do with my life. College has taught me what I like and don’t like about people, pop culture and society at large, but it never answered the question of “What do you want to do after…?” As I finish up my final class and scavenge the campus social media pages for extra graduation tickets, I find myself confronted with a palpable sense of uncertainty about the future. An uncertainty of which will surely infect the minds of several of my peers and increasingly grow the closer we get to that graduation date.
Don’t take this as pessimistic. Finish the race strong and end it with your head held high, even if you must do it in spite of your festering uncertainties. College has a way of wrapping us in a sense of security that sometimes keeps us from seeing what awaits at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Don’t fret, stress or take my words to mean that you should scramble to savor every little thing in school before the time comes to leave comes. Just beware that one day you will have to grapple with some harsh truths about what you leave behind so that you will not find yourself caught off guard by their emotional weight.