As I have mentioned in previous posts, I graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in May. I was more than ready to complete my college experience and I believe that I cultivated a wonderful one. At the same time, my excitement in graduating was accompanied by a lost feeling and a questioning of purpose.
For the past seventeen years, I have started the fall season with the first day of school. I was attending classes, studying, and participating in extra-curricular activities. My primary role was being a student. While I had many goals that were not directly related to school, an at times, uncomfortable, pressure existed to excel in academics. We all found commonalities between ourselves through discussing teachers, papers, assignments, projects, and exams. After running from class to class to meeting to meeting, we would get together in libraries for late-night study sessions.
Now, every day is consumed by my job with not much happening in the evenings. I am sure that we all expected the “what happens now” question to cross our minds as we (virtually) received our degrees, but I have not heard of many folks discussing the emotional experiences that come along with it. Regardless of the fact that the last couple months of my final semester and my commencement were online, I genuinely feel fulfilled by my college experience. Due to this, I was a bit taken aback by the feelings of emptiness that overcame me during the summer months leading into the fall.
I will openly admit that I have many qualms with the education system and definitely thrived more in the opportunities that I had outside of my classes, but the thrills and spices of being a student are no longer around after one graduates. I am not meeting other folks who are my age at any moment, and I do not have endless amounts of school work to do or deadlines to meet for classes and student groups. I know that school is quite different this fall given the pandemic, but based on what I knew through most of my college career, I am not running into friends around campus or making plans with them often. Based on this, I think a lot of the emotional emptiness has to do with the drastic change in social dynamics after graduating as well.
I have talked to a lot of friends about these weird, off-putting, empty, and lost feelings that have consumed me at times, and many of my friends who graduated before I did said that they experienced these same sentiments. They said that they felt this way their first falls after graduating, but that all of this disappeared with time. I am guessing that the same will happen with me and, of course, stepping into this new world is an adjustment, so I am more at ease.
What unnerves me is how greatly our lives are defined by these years of sitting in classrooms. Success being measured by skewed perceptions of productivity is pushed upon us from young ages, and this leads to feelings of purposelessness once our routines change completely (ie graduating). I always told myself that my existence is more than the exams that I take, the assignments that I complete, the grades that I receive, my grade point average, and the amount of commitments that I have piled on top of all of these things, but I do not know if I truly pushed myself to believe it until now.
Even with different, and possibly more “adult,” stressors and structured work days, finding a sense of purpose in this world is still a mission that has, in many ways, restarted. I am curious to see how I will be feeling a year from now. Until then, I will hang in there.