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It's gonna be alright!

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May. 20, 2015

It’s that time of year again — GRADUATION! A time of great joy, relief, and celebration. But amid the donning of cap and gown, of taking pictures with friends, and doing a lot of “last” things, there may be a bittersweet feeling, a nervousness about a future that has not actualized itself yet. You’ve probably been asked a million times already, “so what’s on for next year?” and whether the answer is starting a job, going on to get a master’s degree, or not knowing what the heck the next few months will bring, I hope these one-line speeches from a “veteran” of the undergraduate graduation, will encourage you, especially if you’re one of those Type A individuals who might be freaking out about “the future” right about now.

1. It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.

This may be common sense, but if the friends around you are figuring out their next steps, you might be feeling the pressure to have a plan. If it’s any consolation, on my graduation day, I did not know what I was going to be doing any further than the summer. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out.  But as a wise professor once said, “the word, graduation, means to take the next step.” It does not mean “I’ll have everything figured out.” It’s not like a game of chess where the really good players are able to see a few moves into the future to secure a win. The game of life is far less predictable. But that’s what makes it wonderful.

2. Failure can be good.

So you don’t land the first job you apply to. Or the graduate program which you had your heart set on turns you down. I remember the commencement speaker at my graduation ceremony telling us that we needed to be “prepared to fail” as we made our way into the world. Sitting in the folding chairs with a couple of honors cords around my neck, I was a bit worried. I definitely didn’t want to fail at anything, especially when it came to achieving my goals. What I’ve discovered since I’ve entered “the real world” is that failure has been helpful. It’s helped me to see that some things were not meant to be for a reason. My first year in the working world was spent trying to get into a grad school and to gain a Fulbright Scholarship. I did not get the scholarship and was not accepted into the grad school. But I’ve come to realize that if I had been accepted to the grad school, it would have been for something I’ve recently discovered I’m not cut out for. I would have been unhappy. Without that failure, I wouldn’t have been motivated to find what I actually like doing.

3. Treasure the adjustment year(s).

It’s true that leaving college (or even moving from undergrad to grad school) marks a time of transition. Sometimes it’s like you’re on a boat that’s being rocked by strong waves, and you’re trying really hard to keep your balance. You’re learning the ropes—perhaps how to cook, how to work a 9-5 job, how to budget, how to keep in contact with college friends you don’t see anymore. The beauty of all this newness is that you have ample opportunity to grow as a person. I entered the working world after college, and took on a job that I now know I do not want to do for the rest of my life. Though it may not be my cup of tea, I’ve learned a lot along the way about patience, and loving the people with whom I work. These years have also brought me the opportunity to slow down, to do things I love without the burden of homework. I know that at every stage of life I will be learning and growing, but this transition between college and after college has been fruitful in helping me realize that value of patience and that the next step will become clear in time.

4. Find a new community.

John Donne was right when he said that “no man is an island.” One of our basic human needs is other people. Wherever you’re going after college, whatever you’re doing, look to make new friends, to find the people who build you up and inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Join a young professional group, a bible study, or a service organization, to start making connections. For me, it has been leading a middle school youth group that led me to friends — people I might never had met otherwise — who share my desire for serving youth. From spending time with them outside our ministry, I’ve gotten to know them as people, to see life from their perspectives. It is through community that you can better navigate this time of transition. It has reminded me that I’m not alone. 

5. Keep in touch with old friends.

This going hand-in-hand with #4. With friends going every which way to start new jobs, begin grad school, or perhaps even to get married, it’s important not to lose touch with those you want to keep from college. It’s true that a little post-undergrad Facebook pruning may be in order and that some college connections will necessarily come to an end. But there are probably a few special people that you don’t want to lose contact with. A few months after graduation, I had a friend move from the Midwest to Colorado to do service work for a year. We kept up via letters, and an occasional phone call. For the friends who lived closer, I tried to get together with them every so often. Though life after graduate school can be busy, keeping in contact with good college friends will keep you grounded through this transitional time.


Wishing you all the best, graduates!