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The Painful Truth of Playing College

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College was a dream. This is perhaps the only ounce of certainty gleaned since graduating from higher education. Where college was loose and and free and slightly heavenly, Real Life so far seems entirely the opposite. In the post-college world, responsibilities appear, build up, and oppress. And they aren’t fun. Contrasted with classes, work and adult responsibilities are obligations that seem inherently unenjoyable.

This, I think, is why so many of my classmates and I retreated back to school this past weekend. It was a bizarre reversal. In the weeks, days, and hours prior to graduating, the general sense among the class of 2010 was, generally, uninhibited joy. Graduation would set them free from the shackles of ten-page papers and three-hour seminars. Months later, as Real Life wrenched from my classmates their rosy impression of it, the tone had changed. Defeated by the prospect of being eternally unemployed, many of them evaded questions of their current employment.

“So what are you up to now?” generally went the second question in nine out of ten conversations.

“Ah…you know – just taking some time to recharge,” went the response, accompanied by a downward gaze and maybe a frown.

“For real.”

Much of it, clearly, had to do with the nature of expectation. College had ingrained in us the assumption that legions of employers had been awaiting our graduation as much as we had been. The reality was a bit more sobering. We actually had to go search for work, and often this search was racked with frustration. Who would have thought that would be the case?

Certainly not us, But rather than obsess over reality, it was clear that many of my classmates had instead intended, for just one weekend, to forget about it.

This largely involved alcohol. Years of college teach kids a lot of things, but few things more effectively than the medicinal properties of a stiff drink. One drink became two, two became three. After three came…some number larger than three, but not a number especially worth remembering. Reality settled into the background, became less pressing. The swirl of friends and unfamiliar faces became comforting, and as as the dull thump of some awful pop song synchronized with the collective heartbeat, the it all became clear: This was playing college.

To win the game was to live effectively in the past, to pretend to be a college student again. And for a while, it felt great. The undergraduate lifestyle, which stripped of school work, is almost sinfully thrilling. The trouble came, predictably, when it was time to wake up, when alarm clocks and bus schedules once again commanded us to attention. It all seemed extremely cruel.

And it was. But if Real Life has taught us perpetually lost twenty-somethings anything, it’s that Real Life isn’t fair. But maybe we’re okay with that – just as long as we can dream.

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