September 26, 2015 by Caroline Leland
The First Day of the Rest of My Life
To me, graduation was a funeral. While my fellow graduates smiled and cheered, I hung my head and cried. I knew it was a dramatic, privileged, self-indulgent reaction, but at the same time I struggled to keep perspective on what felt like a tragedy. When I thought about graduation, I mourned the loss of a life I’d never see again. Graduation Day felt like The Reaping in The Hunger Games:
Everyone pretends that having your name read is an honor deserving of celebration, when in reality all it means is that you’re being sent into a harsh, unknown wilderness where survival is a daily challenge.
|Pathetic attempt at a smile
Graduation meant the loss of all that was familiar; that is, the end to the satisfying structure of the American educational system in which I had excelled for my entire life. Before graduation, my life was neatly divided into regular, predictable seasons — and more broadly: easily definable four-year chunks. Now there is no definition, no visible divides beyond the Gregorian calendar grid. From graduation day on, my life stretches out terrifyingly undefined until whatever day I happen to die.
Does that not terrify everyone else who graduates college? Why did everyone tell me “congratulations” so enthusiastically when I felt like I was being pushed off a pirate’s plank? Every time I heard that sentiment, I had to bite back sardonic responses. “Life is all downhill after college,” I often said, characteristically unable to keep myself within the realm of polite society and its stifling conventions. “No, it’s not!” my well-wishers would exclaim, with an uncomfortable laugh. (“What an odd joke,” I’m sure they were all thinking.) “You have so much to look forward to,” they’d reassure me vaguely.
(I usually bowed out of the conversation at that point, preferring to avoid having to defend my utter lack of desire to bear children. Maybe one day it’ll appeal to me, but my horror at the entire operation has not abated in the 4.5 months since graduation.)
How long do I need to wait before I can say “I told you so”?
I kind of hate emotions. I try to live rationally, making deliberately logical decisions that are at most informed by emotion. When I think my emotions are unreasonable, I try to ignore them. I have friends who think this approach is silly. I have friends for whom emotion is central in their daily decision-making. “Follow your heart,” popular culture advises. But that’s just not how I do it.
However — sometimes I can’t deny my emotions. Sometimes they persist, despite my attempts to rationalize them away. Graduation wasn’t a funeral. It was a celebration, the culmination of four years of hard work, an acknowledgment that I was on the cusp of adulthood (as defined by financial independence?). I acknowledge all that objectively, rationally… but my emotions don’t match my knowledge. I’ve felt low since my emotional breakdown on the day of my last exam of my last semester of college. At the end of May I basked in five incredible weeks of a cross-country road trip with two of my favorite people — then I flew to Austin and started life as a working professional, i.e. a lifetime of the daily grind, the weekly routine, the endless monotony of adulthood.
I’m incredibly lucky to have a comparatively flexible, remote-based job that combats that horror — I just need to take more advantage of it. Variety is the only salve to the tedium I have found in adulthood.