What I wish someone had told me at graduation

Last weekend, I attended Sacramento State’s Arts and Letters graduation ceremony. It was my first time on the faculty side and it surprised me how much fun I had watching so many of my students walk across the stage.

I loved that the Communication Studies faculty lined the center aisle and shook hands and/or hugged every one of our graduates. (Next time, I might implement a High-Five policy because my hand is still sore from hundreds of shakes.)

A few of my favorite students, and some of the 813 Arts and Letters graduates this semester. Photo by Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone. Yours truly took not a single photo at graduation! When I get my fancy regalia next year, I’m sewing in a sleeve pocket for my phone. Not used to being camera-less at a big event!

Feeling like a proud mama bear as I hugged so many thrilled and joyous bodies, I thought about the tumultuous emotions that graduation brings. Rather, the day after. Reminiscing about my own undergraduate commencement, and really, the days and weeks after, here are a few things I wish someone had told me at graduation…

1. It’s okay to feel depressed afterwards. Post-commencement blues? Totally normal. There’s so much build up to graduation, and it marks a distinct transition in life, that it’s easy to feel blue when the hubbub dies down. This is especially true if there’s no sparkly job lined up. (Believe me, I know!) Major life transitions are associated with huge amounts of stress, so feeling disconcerted, down, or anxious is par for the course. (Not that it’s any fun, mind you.) It will usually pass.

2. “Now what?” is a perfectly reasonable question. While there are many freedoms, college is a time with lots of structure and built-in goals. Getting out into the world and realizing that there is so much to do (or not!) is a heady thing. Me, I spent the first few months after graduation watching a lot of TV. I moved to a new town, started a new job, and spent most nights watching Friends re-runs and marathoning Sex and the City because I had no idea what to do next. Although utterly unproductive, I’m grateful for the time because it allowed me to see what I didn’t want in life–to be a lazy bones person! Little by little, I got involved with volunteering and preparing for graduate school. I appreciated some time to figure out the answer to “now what” instead of rushing into the next big thing.

Lately, I’ve counseled a dozen students on whether or not to jump straight into graduate school. My two cents–I waited two years and found even just little “real world” work experience inordinately helpful and grounding.

3. “Real” jobs are exhausting. That 9-5 thing is no joke as far as energy is concerned. Even after working three jobs in college, I was surprised how much the concentrated full time work day exhausted me during the first few weeks. (Let’s be honest, I also think this during the first couple weeks of a new semester!)

3a. Have fun paying those taxes. And get used to it.

4. The “Is this it?” feeling usually passes. Oh, that nauseating feeling of a lifetime of endless work and toil spread out before you… (This usually recurs for me during the stretch between New Year’s and the next holiday four months later.) The post-graduation “Is this it??” feeling is normal and it too shall pass once you realize there’s so much joy and fun in everyday life.

5. Go travel. My biggest post-undergrad regret? Starting my first job so soon after graduation. I left college, drove like a bat out of hell, and set up my new apartment in order to start work less than a week later. I didn’t really have a choice in the finances department, but I wish I would have taken time to travel before full time work set in. One of my favorite students from this semester is getting ready to set off on a grand European adventure, and I really wish I could hide in her backpack!

–Shawna

Cross-posted from www.bluestmuse.com and featured on BlogHer.com

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