Wading in the safe waves of casual conversation, the question, "What are you doing after graduation?" attacks like a school of relentless piranha. It's the favorite query of uncles and aunts, grandparents, friends of the parental unit, dentists, professors and that lady at 21 Choices who wears too much eyeliner. They all want to know and, theoretically, that's nice. To them it's an appropriate, seemingly innocuous, well-intentioned question. And I'll grimace and say something like, "I've got tons of options, I'll figure it out. It'll be fine," but I feel like they've torn my skin away.
I know why the question hurts. For one, I don't have a neat answer. I'm not going right into graduate school. I don't have any job offers or internships lined up. I'm not even scheduled to play Ariel on a Carnival cruise for a year (Disney has no time for real redheads). Life after May is a murky place I mostly refuse to tread. For another, I feel like the rush and the pressure to readily answer the dreaded question is a problem because it undervalues what we, as seniors, have accomplished. Where's my "Still planning on graduating?" "How's that thesis?" "How wonderful, you've almost made it."
No, everyone wants to just skip to the next phase. But here's the thing, this isn't like K to 8th, Freshman to Senior, Frosh to Undergraduate. There is no definite next step. There is only life—our lives—and suddenly they are wide open. We, of the planners and online calendars, are scared of the blank days ahead.
I don't mean to speak for my entire class. There are some girls around here who have their entire lives planned out, right down to the veggie plate and dip they'll have their families serve at their wakes. I think they're all big freaks, but I love them anyway. I hear some of my classmates ask questions like these: What if I make a mistake? What if I don't get on the right professional track? What if I decide I should have gone right into grad school? What if I get stuck in a bad job, a bad town, a bad life? Yes, this is a time for "what ifs?", but I think those might be the wrong ones.
Ever wise, my mother answered these questions when they came out of my own mouth. She told me there are no mistakes. If you hate your job, or grad school or the place you choose, it's not permanent. She even surprised me by telling me she'd ended up a teacher in Tucson on a whim when she packed up her car and escaped from Pennsylvania to see a friend.
The way I tend to my piranha bites is by reminding myself that it's okay. It would be okay to go home and float at the bottom of my pool while fantasizing about Mrs. Robinson's thigh-highs, or to take a road trip in my Volvo and find all those huge spools of yarn and giant ant farms in the back yards of interstate America. I could maybe finally learn the basic rules of English grammar. I could watch Planet Earth in my underwear for 10 days straight. I could adopt various third-world children, name them after fruit or obscure biblical figures and try to get on the cover of People. The options are endless, and they don't expire come May.
Sometimes when I look at the inked mantra from Ms. Scripps on my green freshman year ‘mugging' mug, I feel bipolar. On the manic days I think yes! I can, will and do live confidently, courageously and hopefully because of my time here at Scripps. On the downer days I am filled with despair. What am I supposed to do with this liberal arts education? The world's ills have all been laid bare and I can't even buy new mascara without feeling guilty for at least five reasons. At the same time, the world has literally broken down, the economy deflated, the piranhas begin to nip, "This is the worst time to be graduating, kiddo."
There may not be a job to find once I start looking, but I owe it to my education and experience here to do something that will make my mug and Ellen proud. I owe it to the old elm trees and my professors, classmates, friends, textbooks, parents. I owe it to myself. I don't have an answer to the question, and I hate the question, but what I do know is that I have had enough school for now, and I want to actually put my hands on something. I want to be as challenged mentally and physically everyday as I am on this beautiful campus that welcomed a weird, gawky redhead onto its grounds three and a half years ago. For now that's enough to protect me when I see the fins mount and know the beasts are about to bite. Come May, who knows? Maybe I'll have a set plan and I'll harpoon the little suckers.