When you were in first grade, you probably went on to second grade without much thought. And from second to third and all the way through elementary, middle and high school. What’s crazy about the first roughly 18 years of your life is that you go to school… and that’s all. Maybe you’re involved in some extracurriculars, like sports or clubs, or an afterschool job, but, generally, your focus is on being a student. Senior year of high school rolls around and some people decide they’ve had enough, but many students today decide to go on to college. So you keep plugging along through four more years of college until suddenly you’re sleep deprived and giddy walking across a stage in a black gown trying to squint through the sun and not drop your diploma and cane. Or at least that was my graduation experience.
So why had no one warned me that life after college is initially paralyzing? For the first time in your life, you are not a student and the possibilities of where to go next are overwhelming. Making those decisions is scary and hard, but I promise you are not alone in this feeling.
In the chaos of senior week, graduation and move-out, it took a while for the dust to settle on the end of my time at Middlebury. People gave me a lot of advice about graduating college: “Just have fun,” “Move somewhere new,” “Go travel.” All of this was well-intentioned advice, but none of it really prepared me for life after college. The only honest perspective I received was from a young professional I was connected with through a class project. In an email correspondence, she wrote: “Spring senior year I was feeling what I called ‘the void’ of after college — I knew I didn’t want to go back to school right away but I didn’t have a clear next step.” Back in January when I received this email, I had no idea that this sentence would perfectly capture my own experience as well. Imagine blasting music in your car and suddenly the battery dies. It’s so silent it rings in your ears and hollows out your chest. You're sitting there feeling a little embarrassed and disoriented. That’s the void.
I could see it creeping in and around me even before graduation, so I distracted myself by taking a job leading first to third graders through the woods for the whole summer. I was too busy pointing out salamanders and preventing kids from pocketing slugs to think about the fact that I had no idea what came next. Why had none of my older friends warned me about this “void?” Why had no one told me how hard it is to make decisions about your future? For some of you, I’m sure this feeling is not relatable. But for anyone who, like me, has no idea what they want to do after college: it will be okay. I’m not promising it will be easy or fun all the time, but something will work out. And maybe you need to take some time off. That’s okay, too! Taking time and space to reflect on what you want, what makes you happy and what drives you is much better than diving right into a “real” job that you realize you hate. But if that happens, that’s okay, too! Changing your mind on what you want is allowed. I already have friends who have jobs that are wildly unrelated to their majors in college. Just because you graduated from Middlebury doesn’t mean you need to immediately have some high paying job or prestigious research experience.
The other aspect that made graduating seem so daunting was the idea of leaving peers, friends and all the places I’ve spent the past four years. I figured I couldn’t return to Middlebury until my five year reunion because otherwise I would seem “washed up.” There, I was wrong again. I’m writing an article for The Campus for the first time, after graduating! I’m already planning to come back either for the Knoll Anniversary or to cheer on frisbee games because those important parts of my college experience don’t stop being important just because I graduated.
I’m not telling you about the “void” to scare you. I’m writing what would’ve helped a younger me. Even a three-months-younger me. I’m writing what I wish people had told me about what it's like to leave Middlebury. And that's not to say that everyone’s experience while here or leaving is the same, but I can’t be the only one who is terrified of deciding my future all while clumsily finding my way after graduating. There are times that are scary and hard, and there are also times of joy and laughter. In the grand scheme of life, you are still young and have so much time to explore.