Dear Dordt Seniors,
If you’re late to the game, going with the flow, you’ve probably been—best case scenario—perpetually on edge ever since the start of second semester. Or, if you find yourself to be on the precocious, prematurely developed side of things, you’ve probably been—once again, best case scenario—teetering on the edge of a full-blown existential crisis, pretending you could build a cabin in the woods, and dedicating your life to emulating Henry David Thoreau and avoiding humanity for the rest of all time.
Or maybe I’ll save that reality for the English majors. I see you, I adore you, and I promise you with all the love and tenderness in my heart that you simply cannot build that cabin in the woods. Your mom would be disappointed, and you’d miss the internet, and you’d find out you’re not nearly as good of a poet as you thought you were. Happens to the best of us.
But, to all of you—you delightful, so-incredibly-educated seniors—I’ve got some words of advice. Actually, a whole essay, written just for you (don’t you feel special?). I can’t guarantee that this essay will at all help you, though I will try my best…but I can guarantee that it will make you feel more prepared. So don’t do that whole charming thing I know you do in class, where your professor speaks earnestly at you, and you look around the room hoping you look dumber and know less than you really do, in the efforts of avoiding any remaining education. Pull up a seat, look me in the face. We’re going to have a chat.
We’ll talk about a few of the realities of post-graduation life. Then I’m going to offer some suggestions that really help make it a smidge better.
Reality #1: Prepare for the possibility that you may not get the job you wanted, or that you may not get a job at all. I know that every business place is screaming “We’re hiring; please work for us,” and I’m here to tell you that plea is true in a very specific, very limited way. No matter what area of study you placed your hope in—be it the ones your dad approved of, or, y’know, the humanities, prepare for a period of unemployment. One that might be longer than you expected.
Advice: It is not the end of the world. And you are not lazy, stupid, or incompetent. The Midwest concept of failure states that anyone outside of work has the predisposition to be one, if not all those things at once. But I promise you, you are capable of so much. Branch out. Don’t read job descriptions and requirements with a black-and-white, literal lens. Apply to jobs you don’t check all the boxes for. Reach out to people—you’ll find connections in places you’d never expect. Most of all, treat yourself with graciousness, tenderness, and patience. You just accomplished 4+ years of hard work, and that meant something. Be patient with your future.
“Most of all, treat yourself with graciousness, tenderness, and patience.”
Reality #2: Prepare for the possibility of “Post Graduation Depression” and a decline in mental health.1 For most graduates, being a student was their primary identity from childhood to their 20s. After graduation, you’ll likely have a period of time where you feel relieved that it’s all over. And then, reality hits, and your brain goes wild with dark possibilities. The place you spent nearly all your time for 4+ years doesn’t need you anymore. You have no routine. Your professors won’t miss you, won’t think about you anymore. Your friends are gone. Who are you? What does this degree even mean? It’s cataclysmic. Ground zero. And it can really, truly, beat the life out of you.
Advice: Find a support system. Whether that be family, friends, a congregation, a therapist, a romantic partner—reach out and plant roots among other human beings. Do not be afraid to be weak. In fact, allow it. This is a huge change, and you are allowed to grieve. Talk it out with those who have a similar experience or past. Journal. Get outside. Stick with your daily hygiene. Try experimenting with mindfulness and meditation. Get enough sleep. And if the symptoms persist or become worse, do not be afraid to go to a doctor or psychiatrist. And—I really, really mean this—be careful with alcohol consumption. Do your best not to form unhealthy coping mechanisms, because they can and will stick around longer than you’d like them to.
Reality #3: Prepare for expectations from others and expectations from yourself. There will be interrogations. Questions from your family, questions from your friends, questions from your significant other’s parents, etc. It is quite literally endless. And insufferable. But you’ll suffer it. When you answer those questions, prepare for polite answers with facial expressions and body language that tell the truth. Everybody will think you should be doing something differently, be it your living situation, your job, your relationship. They will look at you and still see a child. It will make you question yourself, look towards the social media of your friends and peers and wonder where they got it right and you got it wrong. You’ll feel like you’re behind everybody else, or maybe on the wrong racetrack entirely.
Advice: There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is no timeline or due date to your happiness and success. You may think you got it wrong, and you should be doing something different? Okay! You can always do something different. It is in your hands. This is your life now, right here, and it’s not a competition. It is daily steps of faithfulness. Hebrews says “…let us run with perseverance the race set out for us,” and, don’t get me wrong, we are on a course. What they don’t tell you is that there are park benches along the way, rose bushes to sniff, and food trucks to hit up. In fact, you don’t have to run it at all. God loves a great little walk, according to Genesis. So, walk it if you want, jog it if you want, sprint it, I guess, if you really want to. We all end up at the finish line. You literally cannot lose.
“In fact, you don’t have to run it at all. God loves a great little walk, according to Genesis.”
So, seniors, you’ve made it. Celebrate, worry, grieve, do whatever you need to do. Be prepared. Life is grand, and complicated, and terrifying, and long. It will be hard. But sometimes, it’ll be so lovely, and so easy, and the whole thing will feel ever-so-worth it. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to fail, and fail again. Let yourself be sad that this phase has ended. But don’t let that sadness strike you down. You are going to be okay. You don’t need to be Henry David Thoreau; you can just be you. And you are capable of living the life God has set out for you—I promise.
Kudos. I’ll see you out there,