On graduation day they told us, “You are an alum. Welcome to the family.” The funny thing is that once I graduated I never felt like I was part of a family. And that’s because I wasn’t. Isn’t that what graduation is though? Moving on? We had graduated from that safe, bubble of a community we called college to the real world. Nothing changed in that week between finals and graduation. We were still young, still clinging to our best friends, and still unsure of the future. But one Saturday in May after we had turned in all of those finals, they gave us this title: graduate. While we gained a new title we lost a lot of things. Yes, we lost our favorite t-shirt on move out day and yes, we lost our student IDs because who needs them anymore. (Kidding, we all know you’re still milking student discounts.) But I’m not talking about those tangible things. I’m talking about that indescribable feeling of being a part of something, that sense of community. We lost leadership roles, too. And those weekday nights spent fulfilling the responsibilities of those roles. But the biggest loss was that familiarity that only came with spending 4 years on the same campus.
Not only are you a part of a whole college community, but there’s also an infinite number of smaller communities to provide you with that sense of family and acceptance. For me it was clubs. I was a part of Habitat For Humanity, Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity, Student Alumni Ambassadors, and a Christian Life Community. Whether you were a part of these more structured communities or not, the sense still existed in non-definitive groups. The library, for example. You can have nothing in common with the pre-med student cramming for an Organic Chemistry test 2 tables away, but when you’re both still trucking through PowerPoint presentations at 5 in the morning you feel a sense of community. Like despite your different majors, you both get it; studying sucks but it’d suck a lot more if you were alone with your books and the librarian. Maybe you didn’t study in the library, or at all for that matter. The sense of community existed everywhere. Especially sitting in the student section of a home basketball game. It’s safe to say that storming the court after an unexpected victory is one of my favorite college memories. Nothing makes you feel closer to your fellow students than being trampled by them at half court.
The lease to my apartment didn’t end with graduation. I still had a few months to cling to the life of a college kid. I bragged to others who were kicked out of their places once they were handed that diploma that I had a transition period, time to ease away from the college community and into adulthood. Friends moved away to start new jobs in new cities. I stayed across the street from campus working the same job I had during the school year; the only difference was that I worked full-time instead of part-time with classes. It was hard not to feel like an outsider. Not only was I living on the outskirts of campus, but I was now on the outside of the college community.
On summer weekdays I watched incoming freshman as they awkwardly walked around campus clinging to their orientation folders. I so badly wanted to tell them how the next 4 years would change their lives. That they would find a sense of community that only graduation could take away. I was jealous of them because they were just beginning a journey that I was having a hard time ending.
While a strong sense of community came from the clubs I was a part of, an even stronger sense came from the leadership I held within those clubs. Not only was I a part of a community, but I was in charge of it. When graduation got closer, I had to pass my role onto another power-hungry junior waiting to replace me.
After graduation there were no more club meetings taking up my weekday nights. I had a strict schedule: Monday nights were spent practicing my hammering with Habitat For Humanity and presiding over Student Alumni Ambassador meetings. I spent Tuesday nights bonding with bros in Alpha Phi Omega. But Wednesdays were special not just because I had reason to watch the Geico camel commercial on repeat, but because my most meaningful meetings took place on Wednesday nights. It was never just a meeting though. My Christian Life Community got together at 9pm every week to reflect on the highs and the lows of being a college kid, to step back and enjoy the sense of community that would end in the timespan of 4 years. 5 girls and I had 3.5 years full of Wednesday nights spent listening to each other’s stories. As graduation approached, I knew the things I would lose in post grad life. And with one week of finals left, for the first time I cried for graduation because Wednesday nights would never be the same again.
While not everyone had a spiritual gathering every week, nearly everyone had a college bar with a weekday drink special. We called it “Pennies”, short for penny pitchers (Note: Pitchers did not cost a penny). I thrived off the environment of Pennies. I had no problem going alone knowing that I would run into enough friends once I paid the cover charge and took a lap around the bar. After graduation I not only lost my ability to just show up, but also my Wednesday nights.
Now in my post grad life I have no set schedule. I mean other than watching Grey’s Anatomy every Thursday my week nights aren’t consistent.
My weekday nights are no longer spent drinking penny pitchers or sitting through meetings. Instead they’re spent at my full-time job. On one of my first days at my real “adult job” I wandered down to the cafeteria to take a break from not only the exhausting duties that were listed in my job description but also from the exhausting conversations with people I barely knew. I grabbed a soda from the fountain, put a lid on it and wondered where they hid the straws. It was so simple. I couldn’t find them. Only having 30 minutes for lunch, nearly half of it almost wasted getting down to the café and waiting in line, I quenched my thirst without a straw. It wasn’t a big deal to enjoy my soda without a straw. The big deal was the lack of familiarity I had with my surroundings. I could’ve told you where to find a straw on my college campus. But in the real world, I had lost that familiarity.
We spent 4 years finding our niche in the community, climbing the executive ladder to club president, and learning all the corners of campus for one day, one “celebration” to take it all away from us: graduation.