My university graduated on Saturday, and I’ve been quietly maudlin all weekend. An unofficial U of C tumblr posted this image yesterday, I saw it a few minutes ago, and it got me thinking.
To the University of Chicago Class of 2012: Congrats, you made it.
Maybe you’re feeling better than I did. Maybe you don’t feel that bizarre sense of unreality that came over me during Senior Week, the stomach-twisting dread I felt whenever I thought about leaving. Maybe you’re ready for it to be over. Maybe you’re ready to get out – out of Hyde Park, out of Chicago, out of academia, out of a university that may not have been as kind to you as it was to me. Maybe you have a job waiting for you, and you can hardly wait for this to be over because you’re so excited to start the next thing.
But maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re scared shitless of facing a world that has standards and expectations and requirements that you’ve been shielded from for the past four years. Maybe you’re angry that this place is so unique, so special, that it’s going to be very difficult to find something to compare out there in the big scary world. If you’re anything like me, you feel like you’re being torn out of the first real home you’ve made for yourself as a grown-up, and you’re. not. ready.
Maybe you’re prolonging the relationship by staying in the city, in the neighborhood, in the university community. (I didn’t. In many ways I should have, but I had my reasons, and they remain as valid now as they were then.) Maybe you’re going directly into a Ph.D. program, or a Master’s or professional degree program, in an effort to remain comfortable in academia’s warm embrace. I sympathize with that. I’m starting school again in the fall, and even though it’s a professional degree program, I’m hopeful that there will be something I can grab hold of to bring me back to the life I want. I’m hopeful there will be some students who are excited about school, about learning, who want to do this stuff and do it right.
I guess what I’m saying is this: it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing with yourself. For good or ill, the University is like no other community I’ve ever known, and I’ve known some pretty spectacular communities. Be kind to yourself as you come out of it. Let yourself freak the fuck out. Move through it. For me, there were two movie quotes I used to ground myself in the post-grad freak-out. The first was from Tootsie, and needs no context: “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore!” And the second was from Love, Actually, said to Liam Neeson by his best friend after his wife dies of cancer: “It was always going to be a totally shit time.” And while graduating from college obviously in no way compares to dying of cancer, I like the sentiment: this was coming, you knew it was coming, and there was just no way for it to be super awesome. So accept that this is what it is for awhile, and feel this way until you don’t feel this way anymore.
It’s gonna suck a little. That’s what post-grad does. Be kind to yourself.