If the date on the calendar and the letters I’ve been receiving over the last month are any indication, this is a big weekend for college graduations. And with college graduations, of course, comes big changes, especially in terms of relationships and friendships. People move back home or move to other cities for new jobs or grad school or other opportunities, and suddenly one-close social networks are scattered all over the country, if not the world.
My own college graduation, now 13 years ago, was as bittersweet as I imagine many of today’s students’ will be. I was thrilled to be done with school, but in a matter of weeks, my life changed so dramatically — and not necessarily for the better — that I could no longer remember why I’d spent the last six months counting down the days as if I were finally breaking out of prison. College, I soon realized, hadn’t been prison at all. It’d been a unique kind of freedom I’d never again enjoy. Real life, ironically, was more repressive than school had ever been. Real life meant loneliness, confusion, wondering what the hell to do with my future. It meant making decisions I wasn’t ready to make about my relationship.
My boyfriend at the time wanted to get married. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even 22 yet! We’d only been dating for a few months. And, if I hadn’t been with him, I may very well have left my college town with all my friends in the mass exodus following graduation. As it turned out, I stayed there for two more years, though our relationship didn’t even last another seven months.
If I hadn’t been in that relationship, I wonder how the immediate trajectory of my post-college life might have been different. Would I have really left with most of my friends right after graduation? Would I have had a better sense of what I wanted to do with myself? If I hadn’t been so wrapped up in that relationship and then then my own heartache afterward, what would I have focused my energy on instead? What might I have accomplished? Who knows. Maybe nothing. But it’s interesting sometimes to think about, especially in terms of how far I’ve come and how happy I am that I’m no longer that scared 21 year-old with no idea what the fuck to do with myself.
So, what about you? Were you prepared for graduation — high school or college — when it happened? Were you caught off-guard with the realness of it? And how did it shape or change the relationships and friendships in your life? Did you make personal sacrifices for relationships that you wish you hadn’t? Were you one of the rare ones whose relationship actually survived the challenges of graduation and post-college life?