by Sara Onitsuka
AFO Content Writer
Post-college graduation kinda sucks.
Let me clarify - this is in no way meant to take away from graduation itself. Graduating is a huge accomplishment, and something that you should be proud of. In this world that is made to benefit the privileged, QTBIPOC/poor/disabled/first generation folks and anyone at the intersections of these marginalized identities don’t have it easy in college. More than likely, regardless of who you are, it was a fight to reach the end, and there were many times when it seemed easier to give up.
But you didn’t, and now you’ve graduated. For a while it was wonderful to celebrate the biggest accomplishment of your life so far. But at this point, the hype has died down enough for you to realize that life post-grad is, well, a little terrifying. People with jobs post-grad who supposedly have life figured out may tell you that now, you’ve entered what is called the real world. The idea of the real world is flawed to begin with - it’s based on the very privileged notion that younger folks have never had to deal with real issues or hard things in life, like illness, death, poverty, racism, misogyny, etc. This is false. Many, many people learn how to survive from an early age and no matter what they are dealing with before, during, or after college, it’s all REAL life.
Nevertheless, the idea persists, and for many the pressure to be “real” increases after graduation. While in college, what you used to see before you in your mind’s eye was a marathon to the finish line of graduation. Now that you’ve completed that, it is as if you have been quickly whisked away into a life where your hopes and dreams are barely visible in the distance. Like a desert, tough and coarse and dizzying, with your dreams laid out at the edge of the horizon. They’re there, for sure - they may even be twinkling at you as if beckoning you closer - but you have no idea how to get there or what you’re going to encounter along the way. (Snakes? Probably.) The vastness and unpredictability of life is exciting but a little overwhelming.
At least that’s how I’ve been feeling since I graduated in May.
The so-called real world will have you believe that you need to figure things out quickly. It tries to convince you that you aren’t a worthy member of society if you’re not productive economically. I’ve been feeling the pressure to be a “real” person recently. By United States society’s standards, real means independent, self-sufficient, and most likely not living with your parents. I am admittedly none of those things, and the fact that I don’t have to work full-time to survive, and that I am able to live at home, are huge privileges I recognize. Still, I’m feeling the pressure to make my own schedule in this unstructured mess of life where suddenly there are more options for how to spend my days, but the options and lack of structure are sometimes, paradoxically, paralyzing.
I feel like this may be where post-college depression can hit the hardest for folks: in the sudden complete uncertainty; the sudden paralysis of freedom. Reevaluating your place in the world and how to continue pushing on with your life after such a huge shift in momentum. This is accentuated for those navigating needing work to pay their own and maybe others’ bills as well.
In this jumble, I’ve found that it is easy to feel like my worth as a person is based on how much capital I am supplying the world. As a freshly graduated individual still trying to find their footing, it feels like I’m not quite a real person yet. Like I’m still on my way to becoming something tangible.
I will admit I’m still in a bit of a limbo period, but I shouldn’t feel like I’m useless, because I can give in so many more ways than just by contributing economically. I can give in the ways I interact with people. I give in the articles I write, and in the art I create. Everyday I am contributing to society. If it takes me more time to find my footing than others, so be it. The key is that I’m approaching that process with openness and curiosity.
I’m having limited success in internalizing my own words. I just want all of y’all recently graduated folks to know that I feel you. Attending an institution of higher education is a privilege in and of itself. And there are also struggles that many of us face in and after academia. This shit kinda sucks sometimes. Having graduated from a college pretty far away, most of my friends are in different time zones and I miss them. It is wild to think that I will be navigating the world physically separated from them now, when they have been so crucial in forming the person I have become.
We can still walk through our deserts together, and with other people we meet in life. A chain of people linking metaphorical arms to brave the harshest of days and nights ahead of us. No one said we couldn’t have help. And with every purposeful step in the direction of our dreams, we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay if it takes us a long time to get to where we want to be, and to appreciate the process of improving and understanding ourselves along the way. We have time. There is really no rush, and some obstacles may take longer than others. For example, if a spider so much as peeks its ugly head out of the sand of my desert, I might be held back for years. Just saying, this is a tragedy that I can predict with absolute certainty. But it’s okay, it’s okay.
We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.
Say it with me now -
We give. We’re here. We’re real. We’re enough.
Here’s to the class of 2018. I love y’all. Go get ‘em.