Seniors, take heart as graduation nears

(Illustration by Liam Mcfadden | Staff Illustrator)

Waking up at 9 a.m., my mind immediately goes to the activities of the day. When am I going to fit in time for meals? What homework did I forget? What am I going to do for the rest of my life?

As a senior, I’ve gotten used to the pace of life in college — including gratuitously late wake-up times. Through the jumbled mix of classes, clubs and extracurricular social goings-on, the rapidly  —  eternally — approaching next responsibility has always been a weird source of stability. And after having finished seven semesters here at Pitt, I — much like most of my friends — am about to have that all pulled out from under me.

In so many moments since we moved onto campus in August 2014 — leaving Hillman in subzero temperatures at 4 a.m. with a paper still unfinished, listening anxiously for the RA at cramped dorm parties, watching the clock through utterly uninspiring gen ed lectures — graduation’s touted as a holy grail. Now that it’s mere months away, it’s starting to look more and more like an inescapable trap.

For many of us, college life has consisted of strictly regimented structure, and I’m no exception to that pattern. Growing up in a Catholic family, I’ve been familiar my whole life with a religious philosophy that isn’t known for going easy on rules. And while college is nominally more flexible than the Catholic Church, it’s easy to fall back on checking boxes off major requirement sheets during your time as an undergrad.

Checklists aren’t quite as easy to find in post-graduate life. The real world’s requirements are confusing, unfamiliar and often contradictory. When do you look for a job? Where? How? Where do you spend free time inside with friends during the day, if not the library? How are you ever going to make new friends without the benefits of living proximity? How do I pay my taxes?

When I wake up in the morning and let myself start thinking about questions like these, I’m typically stuck in bed until at least 11 a.m. I’m going to have to learn to do something different for the rest of my life, starting sooner than I’m letting myself realize.

A lot of college students graduate unsure of what their career will be, with a degree in a field they find fascinating but without an idea of how to translate that into not starving — or worse, having to rely on parents to feed themselves.

Even if you have a general idea of where you’re going, the massive change in life after acquiring a mortarboard and diploma still induces anxiety at an existential level. Friends of mine mired waist-deep in the dismal search for full-time employment roll their eyes at me when I try to connect with them over our shared fear of the future. As a future law student starting in the fall, I couldn’t possibly understand how someone who’s entering the workforce immediately feels.

To some extent, it’s probably true that my deep-seated apprehension for an uncertain future isn’t as severe as someone who’s transitioning to the working world immediately. But even the fact of continuing to go to school constitutes an enormously heavy decision in my 21-year-old life — and it’s one that’s impossible to make without a tinge of anxiety.

Since the end of high school, I’ve wanted to get out of Pittsburgh, where I’ve lived my entire life. And while I appreciate my hometown much more now that I’ve experienced it as an adult, I’ve never really lost that urge to move away to a different place. But now that it’s mere months until I move across the continent, I’ve come to realize that I don’t even know what it is to spend more than two weeks outside my City. I still intensely want a change, but my feelings are more uncertain — an uncertainty that contributes to anxiety.

Whether it’s hearing stories from my friends about grad students here who desperately miss their friends and families back home or simply watching shows following aimless 20-somethings wandering through massive new cities, it’s become difficult to ignore the anxieties of moving beyond college into the next unknown. No matter what happens, it sure won’t be like life as an undergrad.

It’s impossible for us graduating seniors to totally avoid the anxieties of moving on, no matter where you take your future. Imagining an end to the life you’ve built as an undergrad is even worse. My best bet these past few months — as the reality of the end of my undergraduate career continues to set in — has been to focus on the experiences I know already.

As college students, we’ve already had to make decisions that will prove to shape our lives immensely, for better or worse. We’ve also already had to prove ourselves in any number of ways — moving away from parents, building a new network of people around us, maybe learning how to hold our liquor. Confidence is important in all aspects of life, but it’ll be even more important than usual as we confront a totally new lifestyle in a few short months.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

Henry is the Opinions Editor of The Pitt News. Write to Henry at hgg7@pitt.edu.

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