I am very scared to graduate from college. It is not because people keep asking me what I’m going to do with my life and I don’t really know yet. It is not because every time I say I’m graduating with a BA in Journalism, people say, “Oh, wow, good luck with that.” It is not even because I’m scared I won’t get a job (although you can keep your statistics and horror stories of Harvard grads working at Jimmy Johns to yourself, thanks). No, I am scared to graduate because after fifteen years spent in the realm of education, I’m afraid I will not know how to do anything else.
School is my art. I have always been exceptionally good at school with three isolated exceptions.
In third grade I did poorly in math because I didn’t understand multiplication tables. In my defense, Ms. De LaCruz wasn’t as invested in teaching as she could have been, probably because she was nearing her mid seventies. I eventually learned them with some extra tutoring.
In sixth grade, I was Going Through A Thing and decided not to do any of my homework for a couple of months. My parents caught wind and told me they would cancel Christmas if I kept it up. I promptly stopped Going Through A Thing and started filling out my pointless boring Reading Logs.
In my freshman year of college, I was hanging out with friends until 3 in the morning every single night, causing me to sleep through my lectures and nod off while I was taking exams. This time, my parents told me if this pattern continued, they’d cancel college. I pulled it together.
In each of these falls from academic grace, there were outside forces telling me what to do. Telling me how to do it. And I am very good at taking direction. And I am very good at school. Because that is what school is all about.
School is based on strategy. It is formed in routine. If you are good at strategy, if you recognize the routine and use it for your own benefit, you will succeed. To do well means to accept certain authoritative structures: teachers and professors, class times, deadlines, exams. To accept direction. To accept instruction. To accept a routine.
If you know when the bell rings or when class starts, if you read the material and can offer a few good insights, if you’ve written a halfway decent paper, if you smile and chat and treat your teachers like they are human beings—if you follow this routine, you can succeed. You can get away with handing in things late, or turning in sub-par work. You build your routine and if it falls short, it’s okay because you’ve already established yourself as a hard working responsible student.
School is easy even when it’s hard because I know what to do. I know how to play. When I am on vacation, I am restless. I am waiting for the grind. My routine is off. I check the back of my mind for a rogue exam or a reflection paper or a forgotten email reminder. When I watch television in August and see back-to-school ads, I am strangely comforted.
Is this strange? Neurotic? I am happy in the nest of academia—the mind-burning routine of researching, worrying about deadlines, coffee in the morning and tea at night, late night library runs trying to cram the entire week’s worth of work into one evening. I crave direction in the form of due dates and validation in the form of grades and comments. It is so distinct, so direct—specific. I am hesitant to leave that. It is one thing I know how to do well.
I have been told many times that I am outspoken. Opinionated. I find those descriptors odd. They don’t seem to fit me; or rather, I feel I wear them falsely. If I were truly any of those things I would be slamming my head against the steel door of academia, my brain begging to breathe on its own. Instead I am so desperate for someone, something, outside of me to tell me what to do with my time that I am terrified to live my own life. I am ashamed of this.
My friends make plans for graduate school, law school, medical school. Not me. I can’t go to school again. I can’t just be comfortable anymore. It’s not helping me grow. I’m not forcing myself to take initiative, I’m not exploring original ideas, and I’m certainly not learning how to judge my own worth and merit. School doesn’t give me the space to propose, to speak out, to demand. I am afraid of that space, but I have to enter it. The routine that I have been so comfortable in for the last eighteen-odd years is suffocating me and I can’t let myself drift off into an easy death.
And yet, education has given me the opportunity to enter that independent space. The bars that trap us are the same sticks that hit us from behind and force us to move forward. I read the texts, I analyzed the books, I wrote the papers and now I have something to say. I just have to find a way to say it.
My Dad said something to me recently, while we were talking on the phone about my post-grad plans. He told me he understood that it was overwhelming. “When you’ve spent your whole life in school, what the hell do you do now?” I’m not sure. When I’m waiting tables over the summer, or sitting in an office staring at a computer, or riding the Brown Line to oblivion I might still not know—but at least I’m trying.