An Obligatory ConGRADulations – A Semi-Open Letter to my Pals Graduating from University

It’s that time of the year again and I wish I could physically be present to celebrate with and support my dear friends who are graduating.  But, I can’t because I am sharing a California King-sized bed with my mom, dad, and brother in the middle of Nowheresville (just kidding, I’m in Tiburon and it’s actually quite nice).  At least we all have our own pillow.

Since I can’t be yelling embarrassing things at my friends while they walk across that stage to get a very expensive piece of paper and shake the hands of people they probably don’t actually know, in plain ol’ Christina fashion, writing is the next best thing I can think of to express the multitude of thoughts I’m having for my friends who are about to embark on the next part of their journey.

I’ve written before on how graduating can leave you confused and disillusioned.  And while I still believe that to be true, this is a more positive post, one that’s hopefully less foreboding than what you’re used to getting from me.

So, congratulations!!11!!!!!1!1!!!!!

You have accomplished quite a feat.  Behind this 15-letter word of “congratulations” are your years of hard work, sacrifice, moments of great exasperation and defiance.  While we may not always acknowledge it, I know this to be true.  This is your moment.  Take it in and appreciate everything you have done to get you here.

Whether you are a First Generation student, carrying the faith of your family on your back alongside the textbooks you’ve shoved in your bookbag, or a student who never had to question if a university education could be your reality, you have gone through so much.  This day is about recognizing your frustrations and barriers, just as much as it’s about your triumphs.

 

After graduating, it took me the better part of a year to finally figure out how to keep challenging myself and learning after leaving student life.  It is so easy for us to fall in line, to get a job and live our lives, relegating education to something of our past.  And to keep learning, keep questioning and engaging with things critically…it is not something done by most.  But friends, I encourage you to try.  I’ve been privileged enough to have free time to spend chatting with friends about social issues, sitting in on university classes even though I’m not a student.  It’s helped me a lot in easing my way out and simultaneously, back in, to the university.  But for those of you who don’t have that option, it’s going to be hard.  But, you got through so many hard things as a student, and I am confident in your ability to get through this too.  And if you can’t quite get through it alone, I have a very empty living room and three air mattresses.

I know that people think our generation of millenials are spoiled, misdirected, and/or take things for granted.  Maybe that is true for some.  But your graduation and the impending fears you already have or will have should not be dismissed just because you fall into the millennial time frame.  Your worries about the future are valid and legitimate.  After all, you have spent the better part of your life listening to others telling you how to survive a system that was not created for you to think for yourself.  And now, you’re off, and you’re told to think for yourself and accomplish great things.  How vague.  What kind of “great things” can you accomplish if you’re not yet ready to be thrust into the world?

These are all questions we have when we graduate, we just try to hide them.  But I’m here to say, do not hide them and do not be ashamed if you don’t have things figured out, even a little bit.  Be open and honest with your fears, because we all have them.  Don’t let anyone say you are not allowed to be fearful or challenge yourself just because you’re young.  Having fears of the future and also being happy about your accomplishments as a college graduate do not have to be exclusive things.  You’re allowed to question your worth some days, and be super proud of your accomplishments on others.  I didn’t learn this immediately, and still have to remind myself on occasion.

But, most of all, aside from “congratulations”,  I am here to say that I am so proud.

I am proud to know you and to call you my friend.  And I am so grateful that through every option the universe has had for you and for me, we were able to come together in some way and learn from each other.  I am proud that you persevered and did what you needed to so that you could walk across that stage, be cheered on by family, and smile for awkward photographs.  And I am proud to know that you will do great things.  Vague as it is, I am so sure of it.  You have already done great things by just being who you are and being a friend to me.  And though it doesn’t pay the bills, I hope that my pride in you will motivate you to be proud and confident in yourself too.  So, throw up that cardboard hat that literally has no other use than to be a very poorly constructed Frisbee, and celebrate all that you are and all that you will be.

With love, gratitude, and ZOTS (for you other Anteaters out there),

Christina

Because There Can Never Be Too Many Self-Reflections

It’s been a while, my friends.  I have neglected this blog, much as I have neglected caring for myself.

Maybe it’s a reflection of my priorities–myself always falling last on the laundry list of things I need to get done.  Because somehow, “self-care” is not something that appealing when I’m writing my to-do list.  It’s not enough syllables to sound important to me.

And now, 2015 is essentially half over.  Already.  And as astonishing as that is to me, it also isn’t surprising at all.  What is surprising is how much I have accomplished, and yet how little I feel like I have progressed (and how much I still make excuses for my lack of perseverance and direction in both my research interests & my “personal projects”).

When I graduated almost exactly one year ago, I was sure that I would make the most of my “last summer of freedom”.  I thought I’d find myself.  I thought something would find me.  I really don’t know what I talked myself into believing, but I really and truly thought that my life would somehow dramatically shift into adulthood and that things would just happen for me.  I also thought I’d stop making run-on sentences a regular occurrence in my writing.

As it turns out, none of that happened.

What I learned instead is that adulthood and post-graduate life is hard.  I even wrote a blog post about it. You’d think that would be enough to teach me.  But alas, dear friends.  I inherited my father’s wit, but not his foresight. (Shout out to my pops if you’re reading this.  Love you, babs…and as a sidenote, I have never called my father “babs” before, but I think he’d find it endearing.)

When people tell you that working life is hard, they are not joking.  It is equal parts exhausting and liberating and confusing.  Colleges should make How To Survive Being In A Full-Time or More-Than-Full-Time-If-You’re-In-Non-Profits Job 101 course a pre-requisite for graduation.  But that would be a whole lot of paperwork to enforce, so instead, we’re stuck learning life the hard way–by actually living it.

And it is not that I thought working full-time would be easy or smooth-sailing 100% of the time.  But I did not know how tired you can get.  And how easy it is to get derailed and not put the effort into caring about yourself and your aspirations because you’re just too tired all the damn time.  Because working an 8-5 job is not like the three different clubs and organizations you used to juggle like a pro.  You can’t do a job and fifty million side projects without getting burnt out.  You just can’t. And I think that when I realized that (and am still realizing that), it hurts for someone like me.  Because I am a somebody who gets excitement and a unique sense of euphoria and doing multiple things at once successfully.  Having to put projects that I am passionate about to the wayside gives me a really visceral reaction.  It is a very real, raw kind of hurt that I can’t really explain except that it feels like you’re breaking up with the person you thought you loved, but didn’t really because you’re thirteen years old and not Justin Bieber, so you don’t actually know what love is.  And again, there’s that run-on sentence.

Really though.  I think that when I realized how exhausting it is to try and accomplish everything all at once and be everything to everyone, you’re kind of left with nothing for yourself.

I’m slowly figuring out what really matters to me and how I can use my skills and interests to provide real, impactful change.  It’s hard, but so worth it.  I know that I would rather spend five years building something I’ve done the research on and I know won’t be detrimental to target communities than get my hands on everything I have a remote interest in.  I’ve done that and seen others do it before and I know how bad it can be for those you’re trying to help–including yourself.

And I know that one day, I will be a professor that cares and be so many things for so many people. (I’ll also get the damn chile pepper on RateMyProfessor… y’all know what I’m talking about.)  But until then, I am understanding that I can’t beat myself up over not being at a certain place or having accolades that I know others my age may have.

And maybe this summer I’ll finally experience the magical summer that Disney Channel always produces movies about, minus the musical numbers.  Maybe I will finish writing my book(s) or explore a new place by myself.  And I’ll surround myself with people who care and do good things and make me laugh.   I’ll stop striving for perfection and start embracing uncertainty.  And I will finally know what it means to care about yourself–that being selfish in this context is one of the most selfless things you can do.