You’re not really an adult at all. You’re just a tall child holding a beer, having a conversation you don’t understand.
– Dylan Moran
To the Class of 2014: I’m going to tell you a story. It’s one of those weird, all-too-personal life stories you’re sick of hearing by now. There’s always a moral at the end, and it’s always supposed to make you feel better. Here’s the thing, though–I bet you’re feeling pretty good right now. The sun is shining and the weather is mild. You were no more dried up in the sun as you were drenched by a downpour. Your parents sacrificed their perfect video moment to aggressively push their way to the front. They argued with a security officer, and had at least ten people yell at them to sit down–all to see you shine. There’s a diploma in your hand and an open road in your future. You did it.
But I’m going to tell you a story anyhow, because in a few hours or a few days or a few months, maybe it will mean something. I was like you when I graduated, drunk off the sun, the hugs, and the flash of a camera. I couldn’t see beyond those stoic rows of white chairs because that was the dream. I walked across the stage and shook hands with my future. I cradled it in my arms as I posed for pictures. In private moments, I flipped it open and stared at its face with pride.
Almost as quickly as they arrived, those white chairs disappeared. My lease ended, and I packed my diploma in an unlabeled box.
I blamed Oberlin for what came next. A great lot of nothing they’d taught me. I could speak three different languages, but I didn’t have a resume. I could identify most of the constellations in the northern hemisphere, but I had no credit score. I had a degree and a GPA to be envied, but little direction on what was supposed to come next. I said, ‘Those who know no tool but the liberal arts cannot be skillful in the real world.” I blamed the world for expecting too much and cursed the media for blaming Us. For the next twelve months, I shrugged and plead not guilty.
Then, the white chairs came back–perfect and unfeeling. I watched my friends sit down and listen to people with money tell them about what comes next. Every speaker tried to empathize, but their advice felt like it missed the mark (by about 20 years). So, I wrote a manifesto. I gave good advice. You can read it if you like. I wanted people to understand that traditional happiness was a pipe dream. I wanted people to understand that someone else’s idea of happiness would always be unattainable. I said, “Love yourself anyway.”
I didn’t want my friends to feel like I had felt, and, if they did, I wanted them to know that it was normal.
Well, I’ve said all that. This year, I want to tell you something completely different. I want to tell you that you are some of the smartest people I know. I want to tell you that you are some of the coolest, most capable people I know. Seriously, you guys are remarkable in so many different ways, it blows my mind. But, I also want to tell you that, chances are, you’re going to suck at your job at first, and it’s really no one’s fault.
No matter how much we believe in our maturity, we are not full-grown. Oberlin takes you apart and builds you into a whole new person–sometimes subtly, sometimes like a T-Rex tearing into a ground-feeding mammal. Give it time; I guarantee you’ll start loving what you see. But just because you can hold a beer and talk about privilege does not mean that you won’t feel like crying in the office bathroom every once in a while. You might feel inadequate; your dream job might become a nightmare. Don’t be discouraged. After 9 months of insecurity at work, I’ve come to think all of that is pretty normal.
Whether it’s learning to sit still and focus on a single project for 40+ hours a week, or having your boss tear apart your project draft, or feeling like you’re always in the way, we all have something to learn. No matter how well-honed our theoretical expertise, the application is always full of fits and starts. Keep an open mind, and remember when you learned to drive or how to ride a bike. I barely grasped the concept of the steering wheel, let alone the right brake pressure to apply for a smooth stop. Now I can parallel park and prevent my car from spinning out on the ice without breaking a sweat. The point is, we all really suck, but that’s what growing up is. Go easy on yourself and the people around you, grab an occasional beer, and have a conversation about privilege.
I’ve learned a lot this year, and one of those things is that, despite my swath of experience earning minimum wage in very different jobs, I don’t know everything. If I could, I’d write you a manifesto worthy of last year’s, but what do I know? There are dozens of people in your lives that have put my words into statements 100x more meaningful than any I could make. Your commencement speaker told you to be kind; your family told you they loved you. (For what it’s worth: Be kind. I love you. I believe in you so much it makes me cry.)
But here are a few things maybe your commencement speaker and families were too embarrassed to say. This is the only advice I feel comfortable giving, as a fellow beer-holding-child myself. Still, it’s good advice, and you can be sure to take it anywhere.
Don’t keep your digestive system from fulfilling its full potential. There is nothing more healthy than a happy bowel movement. Bathroom time is alone time that can be used to untangle difficult thoughts, and, speaking from experience, no situation seems as daunting after a good cleanse.
Always have a piece of cheese handy.
Cheese is not only a good source of protein to stop random hunger in its tracks, but it is also pretty darn delicious. If you’re lactose intolerant, have some nuts or a piece of fruit at the ready. Treat your tastebuds and your outlook will improve at least 10%.
Go on a walk.
We can’t all be Bilbo Baggins, but even a stroll through a new part of town can be an adventure. Aimless walking not only leads to more productive thinking, it also boosts mood and expands worlds. Driving around is too fast. Slow it down sometime, and give your patience some exercise. Think of all those hidden ice cream shops and bookstores–all the puppies and waves–you’re missing speeding down the main drag. Take a risk sometime and wander.
There you have it, Class of 2014. As you prepare to start on the post-grad Afterlife, it begs repeating, if only because it means so much to me: you are going to blow peoples’ minds. I love you. I believe in you so much that sometimes I really do cry about it. Be happy; be healthy; and stay in touch.
A Not-So-Recent Graduate (ca. 2012)