LIFE PART II: Graduating AND Coming Home

By Jessica Jaksich

One sentence. That was all I needed to complete my final final paper. Just a few last words and I would be home free. But I couldn’t do it.

I stared at my computer screen in full panic mode. Thirty minutes to finish the paper… 29 minutes left to finish the paper. After writing seven pages in about three hours (don’t try this at home), I couldn’t understand why one lousy sentence was causing me so much trouble.

Why God, why? Please let me just finish this paper! I broke out in a sweat, my fingers cramped on the keyboard, my heart raced as I struggled to form a concluding phrase. Twenty-seven minutes to finish the paper.

I paced my room searching for answers. I scanned my friends’ smiling faces in the picture frames on my dresser. I looked from my sorority paddle, to my bound thesis, to my Mardi Gras beads hanging off my desk. As I wandered around my bedroom, a 3-D scrapbook documenting my college experience, I suddenly understood my writer’s block.

Maybe on some deeper level, I did NOT want to finish my paper. Deep down I knew that this last sentence not only marked the end of my essay, but the end of my college career — a conclusion I was not ready for.

Now, after turning in the essay, and receiving my diploma yesterday afternoon, the thought of leaving my college years behind me is even more unsettling. What’s worse, I actually find myself wishing I could go back to those panic-filled moments staring at my computer screen, the endless nights in the library, the stresses of college academics. In fact, I would do it all over again – every final exam, every heartbreak, every fight – if it meant I could call myself a college student again.

Over the past few months, I have helped my younger sister to navigate the college preparation process, from planning visits, to finding that perfect freshman roomie. Time and time again, I have reminded her of how lucky she is to have four years of college ahead of her. As she nods her head unenthusiastically and rolls her eyes…

I can’t shake the feeling that I’m totally jealous of a high school senior. If given the chance, I would switch places with her. I would actually walk across the stage at another high school graduation.

But why do I feel this way? Other than the abbreviated length, is her graduation really going to be all that different than mine? Yes.

While pastel dresses, itchy caps and gowns, endless photo shoots and teary goodbyes tend to categorize graduations everywhere, there are a few main differences between high school and college commencements.

First, the meaning of “goodbye”. When my high school besties and I cried into each others’ graduation gowns years ago, we were able to find comfort in phrases like, “Only three months until we’re all home for Thanksgiving!” Now, as I prepare to leave my college crew at the end of this week, I don’t have that same sense of security. There is no confirmed reunion, no guarantee that we will end up living in the same place ever again.  The future is a foggy mess … which brings me to my next point.

When I walked across the stage four springs ago, I knew exactly where I was going next. Of course, I was nervous. And sure, I didn’t really have any idea of what my college years would bring. But I had a campus I could picture in my mind, and a name I could wear across my chest and post on my Facebook.  I had a clear future.

Now, I, like most of my liberal arts friends, am leaving my undergraduate career jobless. Stellar GPAs, jam-packed resumes, glowing recommendations – you name it, we’ve got it. And we still can’t get hired.

Last night, we “cheers”ed to UNEMPLOYMENT, and cried in the middle of our favorite bar as we began our first goodbyes. I was able to keep my composure until I saw a group of frat brothers tearing up (true story). That’s when I lost it.

So, to say that my fellow graduates and I are a bit unstable is an understatement. Not only are we jobless, depressed and nostalgic, but many of us are coming HOME. Get ready, parents.

Here’s my advice for you:

Give us time and space to say our goodbyes. My parents were here for graduation weekend, but they returned home yesterday evening without me. They have graciously allowed me to stay at school through the end of the week and soak up these last few college moments with my friends.

Mom and Dad, try not to take it personally if we care more about posing for cap and gown pics with our friends than taking family pictures with you. Or if we hug our sorority sisters before we hug you at the end of the ceremony. And don’t get frustrated if we spend our first few days at home on Skype and Facetime with our old roommates. Our grieving process won’t last forever. Little by little, we will learn to cope with the loss of our college years.

Stop asking us about jobs. Assume that if anything promising happens on the job front (an interview, a job opening, an exciting email,) we will tell you about it. No need to ask if we ever heard back from that HR rep. If we get the interview, you will know. If we get the job, you will DEFINITELY know.

Here’s what it’s okay to talk about. Career contacts/connections, advice on cover letters or resumes, interview prep (if we ask for help). Let us know that even if it takes another few weeks or months to find work, you won’t kick us out of the house. You will continue to be proud of us.

Rewrite the rules. Even though we’re back living under your roof, a lot has changed.

We’ve been on our own for four years. That midnight curfew isn’t going to fly anymore.

We’ve become accustomed to a certain level of freedom, and we won’t be quick to give that up. Of course, some household rules will have to be established, but this will take conversation and compromise from both sides.

Treat us like adults, but make sure we hold up our end of the deal. Responsible adults plan ahead, responsible adults tell their families when they won’t be coming home at night, responsible adults make their beds and do their own laundry (I’m going to regret writing this).

Be patient, and help us to do the same. In an era of constant status updates and instant photo “likes,” do we know what it means to be patient and persistent, to follow-up, to pick up the phone when we’re sick of waiting for an email response? I’m not so sure that we do. Our generation thrives on Instant Gratification.

Receiving a job offer isn’t like getting a new Facebook friend request, or increasing your Twitter following. In fact, it can take months of countless applications and emails before we even get an interview. The process is slow, tedious, and often unproductive. That’s just not how we roll in 2013.

So, clearly, the job search won’t be ideal or immediate, but that doesn’t mean we can’t conquer it. To do so, we might need to put aside our newest gadgets and turn to all those age-old sayings about hard work paying off (here’s where parents come in). They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?

Help us to remember that while the insta-job we’re searching for doesn’t exist, the right job is out there somewhere, just waiting to become our most “liked” status update.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Jessica Jaksich is GW’s Social Media Editor, and a (very) recent graduate of Emory University.  




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