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Infinitely Finite – Thoughts on Becoming a College Graduate and Being Young

By Emily Maag

It’s 4:45 a.m. and I’ve just finished my final assignment for college.

Granted, I still have to give one last presentation and probably edit my thesis one last time, but I digress.

By the time you read this, my assignments will all be done and turned it. I may be sitting on the quad at my university’s main commencement ceremony with thousands of my peers who I don’t know. I may be sitting in my college’s smaller commencement ceremony with hundreds of my peers who I don’t know. I may be hugging a friend see ya later. I may be napping. I may even be walking across the stage.

The fact of the matter is I just don’t know what I’ll be doing.

I’ve always been the girl with The Plan. While the success of those plans is up for debate, there’s no denying that I always had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen next. Going into college, I chose a major that felt right, and I eventually changed to one that I feel is right, or it feels about as right as it can feel. The only problem is all the plans I ever imagined for my post-grad life were attached to my original major, and it’s been hard for me to picture myself working in a job dealing with my major (degree? what do I even call it now?).

Fast forward to my Disney College Program in 2014. My plan was always to go the fall of my junior year, and so I did. Everyone asked if I was going to return to Disney after graduation, and I usually gave vague answers along the lines of “I don’t know” or mumbled fears about not wanting to get stuck in Florida because it was already hard enough for me to leave after eight months.

Once I got back to the real world and school, I soon realized being back in Walt Disney World was where I needed to be, or at least it was for right now. My story there wasn’t done yet, and I still had lots of life to live there, and I knew it could very well make me happy.

So doing another college program after graduation became The New Plan… The Only Plan. I can’t even begin to count how many times the thought of going back was what got me through anything stressful or frustrating. It was the light at the end of a very long, difficult academic tunnel. It was the comfort that I was getting out of where it was. It was the reassurance of having The Plan.

Applications for the DCP for my post-grad term dropped the first day of my senior spring semester, and I could not get home fast enough to apply. Everything was exciting and comfortable, but still very new and nerve-wracking. But it didn’t matter. I was on top of the world. I was FINALLY going to get back to where I wanted to be, where I felt I belonged.

Until I didn’t make it through to the next stage of the process.

I can confidently say I’ve never experienced a state of shock quite like that. I had no idea what to do with myself. Nothing made sense, and my whole world crumbled around me. I didn’t feel like I just lost The Plan — I felt like I lost the most important part of myself.

The next few weeks were filled with days of wallowing, or as much wallowing as my schedule would allow me. Most days I went to work and class hoping no one could see my smudged mascara or my puffy eyes. Most nights I went to sleep hoping my Benadryl would put me to sleep quickly and keep me asleep as long as possible (without sleeping through the next morning’s alarm).

Things got better with a lot of time and applying for other options. I was hopeful while still being realistic. Nothing I did could successfully shake the feeling I had that Tuesday night when I saw the words I never imagined being part of my future, but I did my best.

Fast forward to late March… I hadn’t even been at work for more than thirty minutes one Monday afternoon before I got the final email telling me thanks, but no thanks. Everything fell apart. Again. I tried to stay at work as long as I could, but it can be pretty difficult to answer a phone when you can’t stop crying for more than two minutes.

The wallowing cycle happened again, this time more intense but more quickly. I resigned myself to the ultimate pity party of no future or plans, and I did so with my best (and probably failed) attempt at humor.

The sense of loss kept directing me back to Marina Keegan’s titular essay in her collection, The Opposite of Loneliness. The essay was featured in a special graduation edition of the Yale Daily News in 2012, and it was the last essay she wrote before losing her life in a car accident five days after graduation. She perfectly captures how it feels to be a college graduate; she laments the confusion and loss, but she celebrates the opportunities and newness. “We’re so young,” she reminds her classmates.

“We’re so young,” she reminds me.

I picked up her book on a whim on a trip to The Strand while visiting New York this time, exactly, last year. I remember sitting by myself on a bench in Central Park late in the week and reading her words, truly feeling young and small, but also young and invincible. It was like some magical moment of having an unprecedented sense of self in such a new way.

But moments are fleeting.

That’s what’s so funny to me about graduation right now. There’s a bittersweetness about the impermanence of all things and how fast it can all move. It is both a blessing and a curse that all things will pass and all moments are fleeting.

But we’re so young, and we have so many more of these moments left ahead.

It’s hard for me to remember that what I do right after I graduate isn’t what I have to do forever (unless I want it to be). It’s hard for me not to think about academia. It’s hard for me to be okay with being old. It’s hard for me to be okay with being young.

I am, however, allowing myself to be young and maybe a little reckless. Despite all the thanks, but no thanks messages in my inbox, I’m moving back to Florida anyway. The more I think about it, the more I realize I’m more of the girl with The Almost Plan than I am the girl with The Plan, and I think I like that much better.

What’s waiting for me? I’m not really sure. Choices. Challenges. Fleeting moments.

But we’re so young… These are the times to prove, to try, to fail.

Chase where you feel you have a life waiting for you. Chase not having all the right answers. Chase those fleeting moments.

Chase your youth.

Class of 2016… just like Elle Woods and so many others before us — WE DID IT. I congratulate each and every one of you. I hope you remember you’re young.

Everyone else…. hold on to those moments. They’ll leave you before you know it.

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