I went to one class, the library, then Barnes & Noble to purchase my very last textbook. Here I was, a senior with one semester left, buying a contemptibly overpriced book from the store that everyone learns their freshman year not to buy textbooks from. After four years, had I really learned nothing at all?
I have no plans: no jobs lined up, no scheduled trips to backpack through Asia or drive across the country. After seventeen years of writing my name on top of ruled pages, sitting in overheated libraries, and manipulating margin widths to make papers longer, I will have myself a diploma, a seemingly expansive and blank future, and a pile of unprofitable old edition textbooks.
After over 3,000 days spent in classrooms, over 73,000 hours sitting in a chair trying to digest and hopefully absorb information in immeasurable quantities, what will I have?
All of that work — all of the migraines, anxiety, lost sleep and cups of coffee — has given me, and us, options. I could write, I could go into advertising or sales, I could move to another country and teach English. I could even stay in Baltimore and get a Masters or work for the same institution that will be giving me a degree. Whatever it is, I have options. And although unemployment rates are high, and sometimes life after the routineness of school might seem bleak, those of us graduating will have options.
We may not be getting interviews from the companies on the top of our lists, and we may not be getting interviews at all. We may not do as well as we would like to on the MCAT or get into the Masters program of our choice. We may not even know where we’re going to be living after we graduate. But we do have options. If anything, that’s what we’ve earned for ourselves: options which should never be ignored, disregarded, thought exclusive or trivialized.
Whatever I decide on what to do after I graduate, I won’t know if it will be the right option. I won’t know if it will be the wrong option. I have absolutely no idea if the option I choose will even be something I need a degree for. But whatever it is, I have the luxury of being able to probably find a job wherever I go, the possibility of building a career and having someone look at my resume and say, “Wow! John Hopkins is a great university,” with which I will reply, “Yes. Johns Hopkins is a great university.”
But although it may be a luxury, it’s a state of comfort that I believe that I, and we, have earned through discomfort, through drawbacks, accomplishments and embarrassments, trials and feats. There are undoubtedly circumstances that create opportunities (circumstances like being surrounded by people who value education, having a support system, the opportunity to go to school and the opportunity to afford to go to school as being some of the most paramount), but when I walk to receive my diploma, sweating beneath my polyester robe and the unrelenting Baltimore sun, I will know that I have made something of those circumstances and those opportunities, that I have made the most out of them, and that I am forever grateful for being so exceptionally lucky and I will never take it for granted; but at the same time, I will never forget the amount of work I put in to be able to put on that robe.
But May is far away. And winter is coming.
So with those options there, sitting and waiting for me to make them, what do I do now with the one semester I have left? How do I act in the denouement of my own academic play? I could try to leave college at the same weight I entered it at (Freshman fifteen? More like fifteen for life). I could work on fortifying the relationships I’ve made that I want to keep after I graduate. I could go streaking across President Daniels’s lawn or sneak into the clock tower of Gilman Hall.
How do I make the most of my last months in the only place where people cheer for you when you drink straight out of a bag of boxed wine?
I really don’t know. But I guess that’s why I’m writing this column: to review, consider, scrutinize, reflect and celebrate college from the perspective of someone who woke up on her last first day of school, her last semester, and said to herself, “And then there was one.”