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After You Walk The Stage
This statement has been uttered more times than I can remember: “College is the best four years of your life.” And as a transfer student, it was a difficult concept to grasp, but even through all the bullshit classes, late night studying sessions at the library, accounting classes you may or may not have been required to take (still trying to figure that one out), you still came out with a home away from home.
After graduation, for the first time in recent memory, you don't have the guarantee of another semester. You are now facing the part of your life that all this schooling was supposed to prepare you for, “the real world.” But, if anything, you feel underprepared. You realize that money isn’t steady if you’re a designer, a writer, or a historian. You come to realize you just need a job, any job, to get by.
Your 22-year old self has to face unfamiliar territory with no comfort of a convenient advisor just a classroom away. You’re faced with a new kind of reality filled with bills, endless job applications, 401k plans, business casual or business professional (!?), and worse—wearing a suit makes you feel like you are a little kid trying on your dad's blazer for the first time. But, as much as you want to pout, drop to your knees, and sing that you don’t want to grow up because you’re a a Toys R Us kid, that may be backtracking.
Inevitably you knew this day would come, although, in the end that wasn’t your only fear come graduation. In the haze of four years you made a place you could call home. Not one spot on campus doesn’t hold a memory:
The classroom that held your first freshman year class. That crack in the sidewalk that everyone trips on. The one security guard in the library that always let you sneak food in. Side streets connecting to campus that would take you to each different spot you used to live: freshman year dorm, first apartment, first house. The spot you’d tell your friends to always meet (Wait, which Starbucks?).
You finally made a place where you belong. The sheer comfort of a mass of people your age, your social media understandings, your taste in pastimes, your mirrored excitement for dollar Blue Moon Thursdays, made this silly college town your silly college town.
Once you walk across that stage you know the place you're about to leave will never be the same. You’re not the only one leaving. Most of your friends are graduating. New faces show up on campus every year. The city around it changes with every passing day. Life as you know it, in a way, ceases to exist. Your friends get jobs in other cities. You beg each other to come visit, but when you are all preparing for the next chapter in your life, who has time?
Those of you lucky few who can move back home (fingers crossed rent-free) feel like fish out of water. You run into old high school acquaintances that you haven’t seen since at least high school graduation. You even forget where the Walmart is and how to venture through it.
Those who move to another city or move out of your childhood home may find that your new location will never have as good a pizza as that joint a block from campus. But, you know, you’ll remember how to get through Walmart. You know you’ll find new bars, new restaurants, new friends. You know life will go on.
That is where the true fear resides. Your fear to move on. Move on to your new life, your new friends, your new favorite restaurants. You have to start over again.
But, the one thing you can grasp onto and hold tight, is the fact that no matter how much time and distance you still have those memories. You are one of the lucky ones who got the opportunity to have enjoyed the “best four years of your life."
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