First, I wish to acknowledge an event that is taking place at this very moment 3000 miles away. In rural Southern Maryland, the St. Mary's College of Maryland Class of 2011 is getting ready to graduate. Not only does this ceremony mark a wonderful achievement on their part, but it officially pushes me from 'recent grad' into the category of 'creepy older alumni' the next time I visit SMCM. Seriously. I now have no friends left attending St. Mary's and thus will have to find sufficient reasons to justify my presence on campus for fear of being hauled off by Public Safety.
Although my participation in the 'real world' is questionable at best since I am a graduate student and, therefore, exist in the limbo that is the stage between undergrad and full-time employment, I wish to pass on a few lessons that I have learned in this past year.
2. Starting forest fires is not cool. Ever. (I am referring to the Point fire that occurred on the evening of the 13th. Not cool guys, not cool.)
3. Nostalgia sets in quickly. I did not have the ideal undergrad experience and, indeed, for the first 2 years at SMCM I was pretty miserable. Yet now I look back on my four years of college with fondness and, come next week, will find myself back down on the river for a visit.
4. Keeping friendships takes work. In college, especially at one as compact as St. Mary's, maintaining friendships was relatively easy. You saw people every day around campus, at the Great Room, at parties, in your apartment/suite/townhouse. Once you graduate, people disperse across the state, country, and globe. Work schedules prevent get-togethers and real life quickly gets in the way. Before you know it, a whole year has passed and you find yourself realizing that you have only talked to some of your closest friends from undergrad maybe once or twice. Keeping in touch requires an effort - on both sides. But it is worth it, believe me.
5. Grades are not the most important thing - and never were. Despite what your teachers and parents told you for the past 15 years of your life, grades are not the most important thing. A single bad grade in undergrad, while upsetting, is not the end of the world - although it seems like it at the time. Once you get out of undergrad, you realize that these things no longer have importance. While good grades in undergrad can get you into a good grad school or possibly earn you a job interview, they no longer matter in the grand scheme. No one asks if you graduated 'cum laude' or not.
6. 'Jungle Juice' does not exist outside of college. Now that you're 'grown up' you either have to stick with beer/wine or order an actual cocktail. (Likewise, you will probably never experience the mixture of excitement and apprehension that comes from attending a party and scooping your drink out of a large tubberware bucket containing said Jungle Juice. Such scenarios in the 'real world' occur only in cult gatherings.)
7. Your friends are going to start getting married and having children. This will be depressing and possibly frightening, especially if you are not involved in a relationship. It may seem like everyone around you is growing up and becoming responsible, but this is not entirely true. You will always have one friend/acquaintance who remains single well into their sixties (i.e. most likely me).
8. It's never to late to redefine yourself. Your family, friends, and graduation cards are going to inform you that this is 'your' time. This is not just a Hallmark gimmick, but is actually based in truth. You've just graduated and the whole world is yours. With no ties to bind you (other than, perhaps, paying off ridiculous student loans), you can go wherever and be whomever you want. Travel. Go to graduate/law/medical school. Take up a new hobby. Pursue a lifelong dream. Run a marathon ( :) ). Once you start full-time work, enter a serious relationship, get married, have kids...it becomes a bit harder (although I refuse to believe impossible) to do this. Even if it is just for a week, take some time to yourself to enjoy your freedom.
9. Great Room food was never as bad as you made it out to be. Seriously. While it is entirely possible that you can cook a better tasting meal than Bon Appetite, it is unlikely that you, upon coming home from grad school/work, you are going to want to cook pizza/lasagna/hamburgers/chicken dishes/etc. Especially if you are cooking for just yourself. I could probably rustle up a pretty good vegetarian lasagna - certainly better than anything the Great Room ever prepared - but I just don't have the time or the inclination. Usually my go-to meal is couscous with vegetables. This is why, over the course of the past year, I've always relished a trip down to SMCM since I know that it will mean a trip to the Great Room and an acceptable quality (and variety) of food. (Note: Obviously this does not apply for anyone graduating and going on to culinary school. If this is the case, get in touch! My diet of couscous is getting mighty old these days.)
10. Enjoy life. I'm not going to lie, it's going to be tough. I've only been graduated for a year and I've already seen what challenges the future might bring. Still, as a friend recently told me, 'Life is not a dress rehearsal'. I'd heard this saying before but, at this particular time in my life, it has really hit home. This is it. This is life. It is most likely going to be more challenging than rewarding, but isn't that the point in the end? Without the challenges, you can never really appreciate the rewarding bits, at least not fully. Experiencing difficulty makes the times of 'smooth sailing' all the sweeter. And it is in the process of overcoming these challenges that we ultimately help define who we are. It shows us that we are tougher than we ever thought.
By the way, this post is dedicated to Chris 'Ingrahammer' Ingraham, recent SMCM graduate and the only man who knows how to properly push a lime in a Corona. Congrats Chris!