I never thought I’d see the day when come September, I wouldn’t be loading up my backpack with fresh-bought notebooks and going back to school (yes, even at 22 I still used a backpack). The end of college seemed a myth like the tooth fairy: by the time I was old enough to stay up late enough to see her slip the five dollars under my pillow, I realized she just didn’t exist. I sort of expected that to happen at graduation—for the college to say, “psych!” and invite me back for year after year of self-improvement. But it happened—I received my diploma and walked into the world. Here are some thoughts for those in my position, graduates of the class of 2011 (because without papers to turn in, I need to have some sort of audience). I don’t pretend to know anything or have any wisdom to dispense: all I can do is tell you why I’m not totally scared out of my mind.
Many people hear the word “change,” and immediately proclaim their dislike of it. My father, for example, hates change: pennies in particular. I’m being snarky, of course—what I mean by change is the basic alteration of routine, or, more broadly, a shift in your life that profoundly affects not only your day-to-day actions, but your sense of purpose, place, and belonging. It’s scary because you don’t know what will happen, and unknowns leave room for disastrous occurrences and disappointment.
Reaching the end of your fourth year in college is, no matter how you swing it (unless you swing it by flunking out and staying for a fifth, sixth, or even seventh), a sizeable change in a young person’s life. I think I actually felt a seismic shift beneath my espadrille-clad feet as I shook the president of Colby College’s hand and accepted my diploma. But it was not with terror that I reacted, instead, I found myself beaming, not only because of what lay behind me, though I was proud of the work and growth I’d achieved in four years, but because of what lay ahead.
Most seniors whom I talked to were deeply sad to leave the place that had become their home, a place where roommates were siblings, professors parents, and alcohol dessert. Some, however, felt the way I did; a pinch of nostalgia mixed with a heaping mess of relief and excitement. You might wonder how I could feel excited to be launched into a world not only still recovering from an economic meltdown, but into one that seems to be wracked by more and more natural and man-made trauma each day we open our eyes. And I guess if I were rational, I wouldn’t be. But I was born with a much stronger capacity to live by gut feeling than by analysis, and I feel pretty good about this turn of events.
Because looking around me at graduation, I saw a group of young people who were definitely not everything the older generations worry our generation is: we were not apathetic, we were not uninterested, we were not blobs on couches playing video games. Granted, at times all of us had been these things (most of us?) but I know we were all not these things all the time because to reach the point where we’d managed to get a diploma, all of us had to care about something at some point. We had to care enough to pass our classes, which meant we had to care enough to go to them at least once in a while. And whatever the motivation for attending college, be it to get a job afterwards, to learn as much as we could while we were there, or merely party every day, there was something that kept us there, and I think that something was a desire to connect to either people, material, or the future.
So the reason I’m not terrified is because while the future can be infinitely worse than the now, it can also be infinitely better. For example, I watched The Graduate about a month ago, at first unaware of the perfection in timing. It hit me about ten minutes in, when Benjamin, who has just graduated from college, hides in his room during his graduation party, and his father comes to get him. Here’s the scene:
Mr. Braddock: What's the matter? The guests are all downstairs, Ben, waiting to see you.
Benjamin : Look, Dad, could you explain to them that I have to be alone for a while?
Mr. Braddock : These are all our good friends, Ben. Most of them have known you since, well, practically since you were born. What is it, Ben?
Benjamin : I'm just...
Mr. Braddock : Worried?
Benjamin : Well...
Mr. Braddock : About what?
Benjamin : I guess about my future.
Mr. Braddock : What about it?
Benjamin : I don't know... I want it to be...
Mr. Braddock : To be what?
Benjamin : [looks at his father] ... Different.
I want to tell Ben here that no matter what, it will be. And maybe it will be thrilling (which for Ben it most certainly is). As scary as unknowns can be, they can also be wonderful—nothing has yet gone wrong, everything can still happen. People see this as less true as time goes on, so right now, poised at the precipice of the rest of our lives, we can literally do anything. And we don’t necessarily need a roadmap to this future.
I, for one, want to try to let the future evolve organically, and not force myself onto road I think I should take, but don’t really want to. Perhaps this desire is because I’m brimming with ideas and schemes and plans, all of which would inevitably cross and contradict each other, so maybe fantasy is where I need to live. I’m sure a multitude of things will go wrong before any of these plans come true, but for now, they can all happen and they can all happen perfectly. So even if it’s a unrealistic to be able to have and live it all, it’s something worth living for.
I want to leave you with my parents' favorite joke: so there’s this old Jewish guy, Abie. And Abie prays every night for his whole life. He kneels by his bed, puts his hands together, and says “please God, let me win the lottery,” the same prayer, day after day, year after year, decade after decade. Finally, when Abie is 80 years old, he says, “God, I am going to die soon. Please, restore my faith, let me win the lottery tomorrow.” And a booming voice comes down from above and startles the old man. It is God, and he bellows, “ABIE! HELP ME OUT! BUY A TICKET!”
So here’s to not being apathetic, to caring, to buying tickets. I don’t want to say don’t be afraid, because that’s ridiculous. But I do want to say that I hope possibility excites you, and that you see the future as a blank canvas and not a scary black hole or a map with a marked up trail. But if you do, leave room for detours. Best of luck, and I hope you greet this change with open arms, because as far as I know, everything you want to happen as you look out over the edge can and will.
P.S. Photos courtesy of JSW.
Listening to: "How Long Will They Mourn Me?", Tupac Shakur
Why: Because I'm gone from Colby, duh.
Stay tuned for: A revamped style of blog, complete with a weekly/twice-weekly question and answer with a person I admire, a series devoted to music, art, things, and stores I love, and of course, pictures of the places through which I find myself meandering. Basically: the blog is back, baby!
Never wild, always Wilder,