Currently, I’m on the coast of Oregon, land of blackberries, loggers, and oysters. My cousin just graduated from high school and most of my family was drawn–by the magnetic pressure of my aunt–to her graduation party, complete with tents and two bands.
I’m getting old and my brain is terribly pickled, but what I remember from my high school graduation is that I just wanted to hang out with my friends. It was such an exciting, yet terrifying time. I was done with chasing down a school bus at 6:30AM, uniform skirts with knee high socks, and raising my hand to ask to go the bathroom. But I loved my friends and our New Jersey parking lot hangouts. I loved (and love) my family too but the world I knew was crumbling around me as people shipped off to exciting places like Manhattan and Delaware. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to some distant relative about my vague ideas about what I might major in and what the strangers I was going to share a room with might be like. Fast forward to four years, and with a few replacements, mainly job instead of major, you have pretty much the same situation.
It got me started thinking about what people tell you and don’t tell you about graduation and the terrifying aftermath. I was reminiscing with one of my college roommates recently about how no one tells you that the year after college is pretty much the worst. An awkward, unsettling time, akin to being ripped out of your warm cozy down bed and thrown into the icy waters of the Pacific, complete with sharks circling. Often, like most people, I don’t want to hear the truth, but I do really wish someone had said to me, “Hey, jerkface. This year is going to be shitty. And you’ll get past it. I can’t explain exactly why it has to be this way, but it does. Hold steadfast to the fact it won’t always be like this.” The potentially petrifying truth would have been less of a cruel ambush.
Looking back now to even farther to the shadowy cobwebbed months after my high school graduation, I wish Future Me/Present Me Now, had clued me in to a few things (Granted these vary on your college situation, especially if yours is a local community college or online program.):
1. You’ll feel homesick until Christmas break, and then at break, you’ll be homesick for school.
2. Just because you go to college, doesn’t mean there will be a job waiting for you at graduation. Make connections, join extracurricular activities that you are interested in, volunteer, and build up your skill sets outside of maybe going to class, maybe not in your pajamas, and hosting Beverly Hills 90210 marathons. It really will benefit you later and maybe even help you avoid your current broke-ass-ness.
But at the same time:
3. Let yourself fuck up. As long as you don’t go completely off the rails, this is time to try new things, for example, ill-advised hookups, pills passed to you at a party, sleeping through a few classes, beer and cereal for dinner, an improv class. As you get older, the harder it is to get away with these things–mainly the improv class–so at least get a taste when you can.
4. Professors (and especially TAs) can be your friends. They aren’t the enemy–much like in high school–and can even be your allies and eventually your colleagues. (Or at least someone who can say, Hey, I remember you. Sure, I’ll write you a recommendation. From what I have heard, going to office hours, which I never did, also helps your professor to put a face to your name, feel like they are actually reaching their students, and more likely to help you out–whether you need an extension or to plead your case for a better grade.)
5. This was a big one for me, since I went to a school where I knew no one. And I’m painfully shy. For some reason, I assumed all the other students knew each other but they didn’t. Especially during Orientation Week, everyone wants to make friends. That means they want to make friends with you specifically. (Well, maybe they don’t. But they sure as hell don’t know that yet.) Invite a gaggle of people to help you crash that party you heard about in line at the bookstore, tag along with your floormates on their adventures. If you are feeling extra gutsy, plop down at the obvious first-year lunch table and introduce yourself to strangers. You’ll help other people feel better about being shy and you all make friends. Saying hi and smiling can go a long way when everyone is scared they’ll never have friends again.
6. Don’t get cocky when drinking tequila. It will put you in your place eventually. It always does.
The rest you gotta figure out on your own.
(For after college, here’s Heidi’s guide)