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Thing of the Week: Graduation Anxiety

Columns | December 5, 2016

My last time leaving college for Thanksgiving break brought political tension in conversations with family, an examination of privilege with friends from high school, and unwanted discussions about my future with nearly everyone. As a senior, it’s overwhelmingly the case that you are asked, “So, given any thought to next year?” more often than not in conversation with each passing individual. During break I decided to spew bullshit when asked about what I’ll do next. But, since I became uncomfortable offering this fake narrative, I started to investigate why these conversations were even happening in the first place. I wonder why we place such an emphasis on an ever-forward trajectory. Could it have something to do with a flawed narrative of exceptionalism that we are taught in the American education system? If so, it all feels kind of icky. With the influx of anxiety, self-doubt, and an underlying sense of competitiveness (internal and external) that accompanies being a senior looking forward—this Thanksgiving more than ever I wanted to pause and question why we even do this to ourselves. I decided to chat with my friend, Alex Fontini. He is someone who has carved a unique path since graduating in the spring. I began by asking him what he’s done since graduation.

 

Alex: “Well I had a job right after; I went to Iceland and was leading some outdoors trips there for a few months then I came back and still didn’t know what was next. So I went home to Long Island for a bit and was sort of just basically killing time. Still wasn’t quite sure but I had a pretty good experience working with students and I wanted to maybe continue that in an environment I thought I could maybe have a positive impact. Working in a city—that…was [something] close to home and important to me—so I applied to some stuff…and in the meantime while I was sort of waiting (which probably wasn’t the best method instead of being more aggressive about stuff) I thought, ‘well I’ll wait to hear’ and I bought a plane ticket to Seattle and then with different methods of transportation bummed my way down the west coast of the United States. Checked out some of my friends and how they were living…”

 

Alex had some notion of what he wanted to do after college—as I’m sure many seniors currently do—but echoed that not very many people truly know what they want to do. I think it’s interesting how, especially in a high-achieving environment like Tufts, it can feel like everyone has their entire life planned out to the year. It’s those instances of comparison that often lead to anxiety and uncertainty around the future. But maybe a lot of that is just built up? For Alex, the feelings of beginning a new life after college were daunting at first, then manageable as he began to adjust.

 

Alex: “For me, I think a lot of it is just being scared of transition and being scared of giving up stuff that I was comfortable with. I think I felt really scared by having to do something else and not knowing what that else was and it was a lot of fear. That and just being uprooted and for me not personally having one place and one community to be a part of. Which I think can make me feel a little anxious and overwhelmed—that sometimes got to me. So that was challenging too. But also interesting and fun.”

 

At Tufts, I have been lucky enough to be a part of two different tight-knit communities, but I also feel connected to the University as a whole. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my mind around in terms of leaving this space is not only loosing connection to community but individuals as well. How will my relationships change? Who will I stay in touch with? I asked Alex what it’s been like navigating relationships with people from college since he’s left this space.

 

Alex: “There’s just naturally less exposure, which can put some distance between you and different people. It takes a bit more effort to stay on top of things. And I think everyone is going through transitions so you know you get to hear how people are doing. But everyone’s figuring it out so no one knows exactly right away. Yeah, so you know it’s different—it’s not like we are all as close and constantly communicating like we were but the important relationships stay strong and I still speak to many of my friends who graduated and to you guys who are still here.”

 

When thinking about what happens after, I find myself not only wanting to cling desperately to the people who I love here, but also this place in general. For me, Tufts has worked. I know that’s not everyone’s experience or reality. At times, things here have been tumultuous. But in reflection, I’ve been overwhelmingly inspired in the three and half years I’ve been here. I’ve learned amazing things about the world, been introduced to people who awe me, and become passionate about everything from Thoreau to Dewick. Now, I can’t help but wonder what this place will mean for me after I leave. Alex spoke to what it was like for him to visit for a weekend in the middle of November.

 

Alex: “Yeah, well, you know I still have many of my best friends here! So coming back was really nice—I think I got a little overwhelmed by just the breadth of people and wanting to have the energy and time to like connect with everyone. But you know first of all, it might not just be me it might be me it the other people who don’t have that kind of time either. Trying to smush it all in can lead to some funky moments, and can stress me out a little. But generally it’s really nice to come back to a place that I feel is as close to anywhere else for being my home. And that may change, and hopefully that will change in the next amount of months. But when I first got back here it felt like an easy, easy pair of shoes to put back on.

 

That’s the thing: as daunting as it seems, graduating college is like any other transition. For us seniors, Tufts can be here in whatever capacity we want. Whether that be a visit on homecoming or a job in admissions. The relationships we’ve made here will remain if we put in the work. Learning can continue outside of the classroom. Life moves on. For me, talking to Alex helped me realize that. I know I won’t do these next six months perfectly—no one does. But I feel lucky that I get the chance to try.