An Open Letter to College Graduates
Its four days and counting until the final exam of my degree, and in between existential crises, I’ve been thinking about you. Or, more accurately, I’ve been thinking about us.
This year, a generation of mid 90s kids are graduating from college. We are the young people born into a world of plenty, an Ireland unrecognisable from the days of our parent’s childhood and a country that raised us with a gentle whisper of encouragement that promised:
“You can be anything you want to be – just work hard to get it.”
But before we could set about making our dreams a reality, recession hit hard and smashed the hopeful expectation of owning homes in our 20s and earning Celtic Tiger wage packets straight out of college into a million pieces. It’s not that we are self-entitled, and it’s not that we expect to be given something we haven’t worked for. The harsh reality is that in 2016, college degrees are in plentiful supply while jobs to match these qualifications just aren’t.
They say that your time at college are some of the best years of your life, and that when you graduate, a world of possibilities awaits. But for the Class of 2016, that world looks a bit, well – impossible. If you’re like me, the last few months have consisted of some of the following:
- Daily internal anxiety attacks (silent, invisible yet deadly) about what career to pursue, where to apply for graduate jobs, where to apply for unpaid internships despite spending the last four years in third level education precisely to AVOID working voluntarily for nothing (*insert quarter life crisis moment here*)
- Hundreds of hours spent applying for said jobs and internships, time which would have been better spent working on college assignments and which would have also avoided the heart breaking, mind numbingly upsetting experience of opening yet another rejection email (“Due to the high volume of applications this year we regret to inform you…….”)
- Long shifts in retail and hospitality jobs to financially sustain the last year of college
- Sleepless nights spent worrying about the future and feverishly Googling employment opportunities abroad as thoughts of emigration swirl around your insomniac mind
Every day, somebody asks: “So what’s your plan after college?” And although I’ve always been incredibly excited to begin the rest of my life, a silent voice inside me answers:
I am afraid of leaving college and having doors slammed in my face.
I am afraid that I have wasted years of my life stressing and studying for a piece of paper that will not help me to fulfil my dreams.
I am afraid that all the expectations my parents had for me as a child will end in quiet disappointment.
I am afraid of not reaching my potential.
I am afraid of failing.
Would it have been better to start work straight out of school? Do I need a Masters after my degree to get a decent job? WHY DID NOBODY TALK TO ME ABOUT THIS SOONER?
But just as the gnawing terror of “SO WHAT’S YOUR PLAN???” was leading me down the path of incurable anxiety, somebody mentioned something so casually to me that I almost missed it. “So you’re just finishing college? What an amazing stage of your life to be at, when you have no plans.” And in that moment, the last few months of tear filled nights, desperate applications for jobs I never wanted in the first place and built up tension flashed before my eyes and evaporated into a sense of calm.
For many of us, the step from college to the ‘real world’ is the first time in our entire lives that we have no definite plan. I can honestly say that a year from now, I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing. We can look on this stage of our lives as an unparalleled time of magic, with no contracts, no constraints and no commitments. It’s a position we will probably never find ourselves in again. A time of true freedom.
The last few weeks, “SO WHAT’S YOUR PLAN???” has been thrown out there hot and heavy across every college campus in Ireland. But these days when I’m on the receiving end, it’s not anxious apprehension I feel, but excitement. Responsibilities and duties will be a very real part of life before we know it – what’s the rush in getting there? We are young, we are talented and we have so much to give this world. There is a road to every dream, and if the first is blocked, take a different path. Ask for a job when no job is being offered. Help someone when they are silent and in need. Move abroad. Travel. Take a chance and let fate guide you instead of money or worries about the future. You are not bound by a script, you are the creator of it. Now is the perfect moment to let your heart tell you where to go and to let your instinct tell you what to do.
The next time someone asks you “So what’s your plan???”, remember that it’s okay not to have the next few years of your life pre-decided and know that you are not alone. What’s my plan? I have absolutely no idea, and that’s absolutely fine.