Glimpse into the graduate psyche

History Essay
Written by Nathan Mattise

After you graduate there are really only three questions you get asked:

1 – Do you have a job?

2 – What’s happening with you and (insert significant other if applicable)?

3 – How does it feel?*

* = This is where the problems arise. It’s impossible to describe all of the thoughts and emotions that go through your head in the weeks leading to and following a life-milestone event like graduation. However, if you’re like me, you have friends or family members you haven’t spoken to often enough through it all. This is an unfortunate situation 99.9% of the time, but when someone asks “How does it feel?” you’re in luck. Those lengthy letters or catch-up e-mails sent to these folks within a few weeks of such an event are telling, and below is an actual one sent by yours truly. It’s like reading a diary entry months after the fact, except this one is for the eyes of many in order to provide an answer to dreaded post-grad question number three.

April 29, 2007

Dear (name removed to protect the innocent – who really wants to admit they’re friends with me?)

It’s been far too long and 1) there’s no real way to catch up via text or Facebook message and 2) I know end of the semester isn’t always conducive to long AIM chats or late night phone calls. But how is everything going in your life? I haven’t even managed to see you during the last few breaks I’ve been in NEPA. Is everything still going well with (various activities in your life)? Do you have exciting summer plans of any sort or are you coming home to relax? What about keeping in touch with folks? And of course how is the (significant other if applicable), any major updates there or are things going smoothly as always? (I guess maybe a call would’ve been best, that’s a lot of questions. Don’t feel obligated to respond, that’s just what I was thinking when I started writing).

Anyway, you might have bitten off more than you can chew when you just dropped me a line to wish me luck with graduation and my life. I intend to tell you about it now. First and foremost – the uninteresting stuff. I’m graduating in less than two weeks from today. Yes, it’s weird as hell. Yes, it really does feel like everything goes by too fast. Yes, it’s an emotional rollercoaster with an ending that seems as scary as it is exciting. It consumes your thoughts and life, for me at least, starting about a month before. Let’s just say I never realized I had so many hip, reflective yet depressing albums on my iPod.

First there’s the whole post-college thing. I had my first job offer about a month ago and I turned it down. It was through Teach for America to be a high school English teacher in rural North Carolina. I think it would’ve been fulfilling plus I believe whole-heartedly in the organization’s cause…but the situation (perhaps two years on pause from what I really want to do) and the area (somewhere I’ve been, can’t imagine living long term, is far away from everyone and has no room for growth if I really want to write) was just wrong. Sometimes I regret not having the certainty of knowing what comes next, but I tell myself I’m young and there’s no need to rush into something that might not be right.

For now I keep plugging away at all avenues but it won’t really start to pick up for me until closer to / following graduation (getting a job before graduation seems to be incredibly difficult if you’re not a business major. Everyone I know seems to be in this position). I’m applying for jobs as assistant hall directors at colleges (benefits: I get a year or two to think about what I want to really do, I have benefits/housing/food/salary and the ability to take grad classes, I get to try a new part of the country or get to stay close to where I’ve been). I’m also applying for jobs as a writer either at newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, wherever (benefits: I really, really like writing). I had my first interview with this route about two weeks back with Conde Nast publications in NYC. They publish The New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, etc. so it’s a potential long shot but a dream starting gig. We’ll see what happens, the interview went really well. I’ll tell you in greater detail if you’re interested. Bottom line, as of right now my only definite post-graduate plan is to take at least a month in Scranton, Pa.

The rest of my life story is going equally as well but is just as complicated by the uncertainty of graduating. I’m spending a lot of time with friends also graduating, catching a lot of concerts, going out to eat, partying, just chilling at the gym or on the quad – basically any excuse to just hang out while we can. I can’t quite explain why it’s so much more daunting than in high school. Back then I knew I’d see people again because my good friends would keep in touch and my OK friends would still want to catch-up when we’re home on break. With college there is no “home on break.” This could theoretically be the last time I see some of these folks who I’ve been real close with at times, always friendly with but I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to visit over the summer you know? My best friend here (easily on the level of some of my friends I’ve had since childhood) for instance is only applying to jobs in places like Georgia, Mississippi, Oregon. It’s a virtual guarantee the next few years of my life he’ll only be a remote, electronic presence. I can’t describe how much that sucks, but it’s enough to keep you up late on any given night.

To make matters worse (I guess at the same time as making them infinitely better), I naturally met a girl this year. If you asked me to chose whether or not I’d date someone right now in life I’d probably say no. If you asked me if I’d date someone much younger than me I’d probably say no. If you asked me to date someone who lives nowhere close to me I’d probably say no. Yet here I am, I threw logic out the window because this girl and I just had this intense, weird, immediate, deep connection that has only continued to grow as we hang out. I’ll give you the full story and more details on this too if you want, but it’s ironic that at a point when I’m faced with more uncertainty than ever before, I find someone that every part of me seems to be certain about. Thankfully she feels similar enough (or is at least naive enough) to try and give this whole distance thing I shot. Just like graduating, that is scary and exciting all at the same time.

Finally, the aspect of my life that seems to get neglected the most (probably due to the lack of proximity) is my home life, the family and friends who made me into the kid who will graduate in two weeks. I talk to my mom maybe once or twice a week but it’s small talk and I can sense how sad she is to watch me grow up (and to watch perhaps my last final months of living in Scranton, Pa. approaching). I don’t get that vibe from anyone else in the fam – my dad is pretty laid back, my bro doesn’t care, Emily doesn’t understand and my sis is slowly going through these realizations herself (albeit she has three more years before it really kicks in). It’s sad to admit I can sense that. In the next few months it could be the last time I see my grandparents, the last time I can truly call my mother’s roof home, the last time I see or even talk to the friends at home I haven’t kept up with. I often see a Facebook update or away message and wonder what life is like for everyone, think about how interconnected we once were and how unconnected we may be in the future. Recently home has been maybe the only thing connecting us and now we might not even have that. Just like with my fellow graduates here, we’re starting to lose what has been stable and shared among us in our lives for an extended period of time. I can’t even claim to be excited about it, it’s just scary in this aspect.

I could go on because I always have millions of thoughts racing around in my head, but this is already a short novella. Thanks for reaching out and I hope to hear from you soon. At the very least, you gave me a good reason to sit down and organize my thoughts. That alone verifies the friend you’ve always been madam, I hope we cross paths again soon.

Take care, keep in touch.

(Links today via -Wikipedia and YouTube)

Please e-mail Nate and tell him how your life is going. That way, someday, you can get an e-mail like this…an e-mail with way more info than you were really asking for.

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Filed under Essays, History

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