Dear Class of 2015,
Some would say that I’m not qualified to write this because it has only been a year since I graduated college. But a lot can (and does) happen within the span of one year, and I don’t think it’s about the number of years you’ve spent doing something as much as it is having something to offer. This time last year I was in your shoes, relieved to be nearly done with the semester but absolutely terrified of what loomed ahead. The anticipation was such an emotional roller coaster that I would be laughing and crying at the same time, carefree one minute, than a total mess over the inevitable ending of an amazing four years. It’s perfectly normal to be doing those things, along with soaking in all the traditions, cheap drink nights, and so on as much as you possibly can. For almost all of you, Graduation Day will be the definition of bitter and sweet, where the amount of emotion can leave you overwhelmed by the time you take off your cap and gown. Make a point to celebrate, because not only did you get your diploma, but you had life-changing experiences and memories.
So what’s next?
This is where it gets tricky, because at this point it literally is different for everyone. Some will move to new cities and start working right away, while others might have to return to their hometown roots in order to regroup and figure out which path to take. Some may take the next step in their romantic relationships, and some may choose to travel and cross things off their bucket lists. After college, very few friends are in the exact same place anymore, though it’s likely they’ll share the same emotions, fears, and uncertainties. Regardless of the exact circumstances, the transition from college to the real world is not easy, so allow yourself to cry and let it out when you feel the need to. Though you never really permanently adjust to adulthood due to it’s own various stages, that doesn’t make it any less important to be gentle with yourself. And as you move from one chapter to the next, please do yourself and your friends the honor of saying goodbye. It’s hard and gut-wrenching, and no one is ever really “good” at it. But it will give you and the other person peace, as a way of acknowledging that you were here, you lived, and you did it together.
It’s likely that in the months that follow, you’ll feel somewhat lost and unsure of what to do, even if there are clear opportunities ahead. The transition for me was twofold; not only was I leaving behind a family that I had grown to love in cherish, but I was coming back to a family that was in the midst of a lot of changes in itself, much of which I didn’t know what to do with. The hardest part was not getting a kind of support that I felt like I got at school, where I was accepted for being emotional, sensitive, and messy. Making friends can be a slow process; you might reconnect with those you lost touch with after high school. You might very well be in a place where you don’t know anybody or aren’t surrounded by very many twenty-somethings, and I’d say utilize technology to the best of your ability. Websites like meetup.com offer so many social and interest-related groups, even if it’s just for the sake of getting out and being around people.
Yes, you’re going to experience loneliness and nostalgia; you’ll picture your former days in your head like a movie montage, yearning for it in a way that almost hurts. It’s perfectly normal to want to go back, and I’ve gone back to Iowa several times in the last year. It really helped me to understand that it wasn’t just the activities that made college what it was, but the people. And when you get to do something that has such a profound impact and transforms your life, it becomes part of you, and in a sense that place will always be your home. I promise that there are beautiful things about post-grad that you’ll come to appreciate, especially the little things. You’ll be able to read for pleasure again, and hopefully have the chance to get a solid night of sleep. It is possible to go out and have fun without waking up with a hangover in the morning, and I’ve learned to enjoy activities like going to movies by myself or doing other things on my own.
As you grow and mature, you will have regrets. It’s tough to look back and not beat yourself up over what you could have done differently, but remember that there are circumstances in which one can only know or do so much. If need be, apologize and ask for forgiveness, but also forgive yourself in order to move forward.
While you’ll never have anything completely figured out, it’s important to be aware of the fact that anything you do (or don’t do) from this point on is A.) completely up to you and B.) could very well affect or even change the course ahead. For most, there are no longer set points in time to start over; you have to be the one to create your own new beginnings, to decide what is true and right for you and what isn’t.
With that being said, please don’t wait for the perfect job, the perfect person, or even the perfect time in order to start building your own life. Not just because perfection is non-existent, but because none of these aspects will fill you and make you whole. While it’s true that that the initial path may be one of the most frustrating and depressing stages you’ll go through (sometimes more than once), I whole-heartedly believe in the purpose of it. There was at least a month or two when I was going on multiple interviews at a time, and the concept of going out in the world and kicking ass was absolutely awesome. Yet, I started to notice that after a little bit I’d get cranky; I was trekking to the city and going through this lengthy process to not only get rejected, but for a short time it was all I was doing. Every disappointment was reminder that I couldn’t put my joy or identity into my career, that only God could give me peace and contentment. General worldview aside, you are not defined by your relationship status or your income. You still matter, because everyone matters.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or accept help when it is offered. Realistically, none of us ever gets anywhere without the guidance and mentoring of someone else. Sometimes you have to pay your dues and bite the bullet for a little bit in order to get to where you want to be. A lot of people will want to give you unsolicited advice, and all I will say for that is to trust your instincts (which is true for just about everything) in terms of what needs to be taken to heart. Pursuing and doing what you love is one thing, but making time for people that you care about is another. Relationships truly do have to be intentional, especially when additional aspects like work and finances are involved. While paying the bills helps one survive, quality time feeds the soul. Make plans and make memories, because the emails and messages will still be there. No, I’m not saying put one foot in and one foot out, because each requires both. It means understanding your limits and respecting them.
Being excessively busy doesn’t always equal success. We all have stuff to get done and it’s important to stick to it, but I could never live with a constant, fully packed schedule to the point of being unavailable. If you think that’s who you are, take a step back and ask yourself why.
Forget the lists that tell you what you should be doing at what age, or what you should have done by then. Traveling is a beautiful thing, but it’s perfectly fine to put your finances first or to want to find the hidden gems closer to home. There are those that choose to get married because they have found someone they want to share their life with, and they are emotionally, spiritually, and financially ready to do so. There are those that choose to be single because they want to get to know themselves better or outside of a particular environment. Both are honorable choices and deserve to be respected, because it’s really no one else’s business. And some not-so-good habits are just part of people, regardless of how old they get. Sometimes you just have to compromise.
It’s OK to do things simply because you want to, without any justification or explanation. God doesn’t always give clear cut answers, and I’m guessing that’s so we can learn to own and take responsibility for our decisions.
But more then anything, this is the time to truly be yourself. One of the nice things about being outside a collegiate environment is that there is no longer a concrete way of doing things, especially when it comes to what kind of relationships you have and how you treat other people. I have always known deep down that I cannot be categorized or compartmentalized, but I didn’t know how to live that out when it seemed like you had to be one thing or the other. There’s so much talk about finding who you are or creating it, but I tend to think it’s more about embracing it. To some degree a person knows their truth, but they never completely do because they’re always changing and evolving as they go.
Instead of walking around like you have something to prove, show that you have something to offer. Do what moves and inspires you, but also give as well; and when you give, give out of your own heart rather than obligation.
The ending of college may seem like the end of the road, but trust me when I say that it’s not. It is only the continuation of an already awesome story, a new chapter. Whatever you do, make it one worth telling.
You are strong and courageous. You can do hard things.