Finding a New Occupation

The morning after college graduation, I packed up the remaining items still lingering in my bedroom, closet, and refrigerator before hugging quick goodbyes and heading home. There had been little to no time with which to process the last 24 hours: picnics, final grades, department lunches, and graduation itself complete with unyielding summer heat and 800+ black mortar boards suspended against the clear blue sky. We listened to our president congratulate us, his words reflected in the beaming smiles of our parents sitting nearby. There was a flurry of clapping, sitting, standing and clutching our shiny new diplomas as we moved into the position of Bucknell alumni. 

We smiled for what seemed like days, posed arm in arm those who mattered most in these short four years. People who evolved from nervous freshmen strangers to close friends and devoted confidants. I glanced hesitantly from face to face, their eyes reflecting my own dazed bewilderment. Had this moment come already? We were still recovering from Senior Week, a haze of lazy beach days, strong mixed drinks and skinny-dipping escapades. The sheer weight and finality of graduation was light against the horizon that had not yet dawned. No one had mentally prepared for the last memory of college life. Not a chance.

So I sat in the waiting room on Monday morning filling out new patient forms and pretending my life was going on as usual. Just another summer break. I scribbled in health insurance information, name, and date of birth as the rain beaded along the windows outside. Suddenly I froze, unable to answer the question just after the phone number, before the contact information. The line read: Occpation ___________. 

Now in another circumstance, it would be humorous to note that the individual writing up these new patient form had an occupation that did not include spelling or spell-check. At that moment however, I could only look blankly at the paper trying desperately to think of a suitable answer. When that failed I did what any self-respecting college graduate would do. Ask Mom.

Me: “Mom, what do I put under this line?”

Mom: “Put student of course. Wait….Oh.”

And there it was. Not 24 hours after graduation and already I was confronted with the very apparent reality that I was no longer a student. I had been unfairly accosted without any defense against the form’s incorrectly spelled inquiry. What is my new identity? Where do I belong? 

Transitions are never easy and I expect questions like occpation will continue in varying degrees over the next couple months. The life of a college graduate lacks all elements of routine, tradition and certainty. After high school, I followed my four-year plan along a paved road of sophomoric confidence. But that road has ended and I am left standing at the shore, beyond which lies an endless abyss of water and waves.

I waver unsteadily, counting the days when the sunlight touches the horizon and I can call out, “Land ho!” 

Final Finals Week

The end of the semester is a whirlwind. The last day of classes, a time for celebration, is short-lived. Finals week looms overhead like a dark thundercloud that releases a torrent of battered GPAs and hastily packed belongings. Students spend time hunched over flashcards or perched for hours in the corners of the library, face illuminated by gray computer screens. Long sleepless nights are fueled by espresso shots, unplanned naps, and fierce adrenaline only the fear of a failing grade can produce. As exams finish and the days accumulate, short tearful goodbyes are heard through the halls and across the quad. A common phrase “the last” becomes attached to thoughts and actions so seemingly mundane activities hold increased importance. The last time I’ll see you before going abroad. The last time we’ll live on the same freshmen hall. The last time I’ll eat in the caf.

I almost missed the subtle difference between the end of this semester and semesters in the past. The papers, exams, and expectations were the same. The cups of coffee and time spent furiously revising the perfect conclusion paragraph reflected any other finals week. I watched my underclassmen friends pack up their SUVs and move futons from their cramped dorm rooms into storage units for the summer months. Yet whenever I attached “the last” to a completed activity, the weight of my words hung heavy  as they slipped into the air.

Approximately 43 minutes ago, I emailed my final assignment off to my professor.

“I have attached my personal reflection. Thanks for a great semester. -Katelyn”

And that was it. I would be lying if I told you a fanfare sounded or a chorus of voices floated through my open bedroom window. The only confirmation I received signifying the end of my 19 year academic career was a Gmail text box. Your message has been sent. Time to move on.

Tomorrow I will pack up and travel with four best friends to Hilton Head, South Carolina for a 7-day extravaganza affectionately known as “Senior Week.” This migration happens across the campus as people pack up and drive down south for one last hurrah. This is the time for reliving the past four years of our undergraduate experience with strong drinks and stronger friendships. It will be glorious and fleeting– a beautiful sunset that disappears as soon as the camera lens clicks into focus.

So bottoms up to the last of many things and the first of many more. Image