Well, I’m finished. I am officially a college graduate. Everyone keeps asking me, “how does it feel?” I wish I could say that it feels AWESOME; I wish I could say I feel accomplished or ready to take on the world. In all actuality, it makes me feel lost. I feel a bit like I’ve been helicopter-dropped into a desert in the middle of nowhere with a backpack of “supplies” meant to help me when in reality, the backpack has a padlock on it and they didn’t give me the combination.
For the entirety of my life, I’ve been a student. From preschool twenty years ago until just four days ago, being a student was all I knew how to be. And yes, throughout my college years, I’ve learned plenty about life and critical thinking and problem solving – I’ve had a fabulously well-rounded education, focused on practical elements as well as the liberal arts. But at the same time, I don’t know how to put those skills into application. Mostly because I am currently unemployed and lying in bed in a different pair of pajamas than I wore all day yesterday, with nothing to do but kill time and apply for jobs, hoping that one day the employment gods will smile down upon me and bless me with a paycheck.
So while it’s nice to be finished with all of the excessive schoolwork that’s been hanging over my head for the past twenty years – my senior thesis is finally completed and turned in, by the way, which is an accomplishment in and of itself – it’s also strange to be lacking that near-constant part of my life. I don’t know what to do now that I don’t have papers to write and projects to do, classmates to work with and books to research.
I think what I’m going to have to do, at least until a job does drop into my lap, is take it upon myself to continue my education. I’ve always wanted to learn about art history – why not check out a book and take my own notes and write my own papers? Who says that I can’t continue studying Shakespeare and editing my thesis to make it even better? Why can’t I decide to explore 1920s American literature even further than I did in my undergrad classes? It’s going to take much more work than just showing up to class two or three times a week to listen to the professor lecture. I’ll have to decide what avenues to explore, what deserves time and attention, what kinds of things I can do to keep practicing my literary analysis skills. But that also gives me a bit of freedom that I’ve never had before. And if I’m my own director, at least I won’t have to stress about deadlines.
The thing is that the “real world” that I’ve been told to prepare for throughout my entire life is just this: doing whatever I want. Once I become employed, of course, I’ll have responsibilities to complete and colleagues to collaborate with and everything else I expect from a Grown-up Job. But the real world for me, right now, in this moment, is whatever I want it to be. My to-do list consists of “do laundry” and “read those library books” and “work on writing short story” and “go outside and get some sun, you ghost-person.” So if I want to choose to make my own real world an extension of school, no one can tell me no. I could get used to having that kind of power.