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What Happens After Graduation

The transition isn’t always pretty.

Many undergraduates believe their lives after college will be full of life and excitement. That’s not the whole truth. 

After watching a few classes graduate and seeing my friends progress from college to post-graduate life, I’ve realized the transition isn’t always pretty. Here are a few things that will probably happen to you.

First, you will find yourself surprised by whom you keep in touch with. College is full of friendships of convenience, of people you spend time with because they’re available to you, because you work together and live together, because you’ve just happened to find yourself in the same place together. There’s nothing wrong with these relationships; they’re good and valuable. But after college, you’re forced to prioritize who will remain your good friends. Who will you try to live near? With whom will you schedule regular coffee dates or phone calls? The people you are still talking to a year after graduation are not always the people you would have guessed. You’ll lose some of the people you once thought were your closest friends, and your ability to maintain relationships will be tested.

Second, for those who begin full-time work after graduation, the majority of you will undergo periods where you feel incompetent and unprepared for your work. Even students who get technical or vocational degrees will find work is very different from school and a career is very different from an internship. You’ll find yourself thrown off by your lack of confidence and the apparent confidence of all your coworkers. But the truth is, your peers are probably putting on a show. They’re all just as nervous as you are.

Third, many of you will feel isolated and depressed for a while. One of the worst things about Notre Dame is that, the better it gets as a community, the worse your post-college community will seem by comparison. You’ll move from a place of strong ties to people with whom you share common interests and desires, to a place where, for a while, you’re mostly on your own. The faith community doesn’t seem as rich; the intellectual community is hard to find; the social community isn’t nearly as exciting; and these communities, after graduation, often don’t intersect.

This is the secret that college doesn’t tell you: life after graduation for many people is just awful. I don’t say this just to scare you. I’m saying this because I want you to know if you go through these things that you’re not alone, that you’re not crazy and that, like many of my friends, you will get through this.

I’m also saying this so you can prepare yourself now.

Try to regularly throw yourself into new experiences and opportunities where you feel uncomfortable and unsure. Learn how to navigate new and scary experiences and to reach out to others when you need help and support.

As soon as you graduate, prioritize relationships and create regular opportunities to be with your friends. Friendship is a habit and a skill. It’s like brushing your teeth or working out; if it’s not practiced regularly and deliberately, it will grow weak and decay. And be prepared for when a friend decides he or she isn’t going to prioritize you. When that happens, don’t be passive aggressive or sweep the issue under the rug. Address the problem and, if you have to, move on and prioritize other relationships. Friendship can’t be a one-way street.

If you find yourself unhappy with where your life is after graduation, decide what you’re missing and make plans to get it. Start a book club, schedule a weekly happy hour or get a group to go to Mass with you regularly. The easiest thing to do is to sit around and think about how unhappy you are. But you’ll only change if you get up and do something.

And finally, don’t be afraid to come back to Notre Dame every once in a while. There’s nothing wrong with using a football game as an excuse to visit a place that still feels like home. You’ll feel nostalgic at times, even though you’ll want to have “moved on” and not be that student-who-graduated-but-basically-didn’t-graduate-and-basically-lives-at-Notre-Dame. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to come back. The transition takes time. That’s ok. Just remember that Notre Dame, Our Mother, will always be your mother, tender, strong and true.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

This column was published in The Observer on Thursday, March 9, 2015. 


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