COURTESY OF RIA ARORA

Arora reflects on her first year post-graduation.


When we all graduate, where do we go?

Hi Class of 2022, 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: graduation season! With perfectly manicured pictures of your cap and gown, a flurry of “Congrats Grad!” balloons and bottles of champagne, graduation season is (and should be) a time of merriment and joy, celebrating all the hard work you’ve put in for the past four years. 

That being said, graduation marks the end of your time at Hopkins, for better or for worse. Amid the celebrations it’s also okay to feel loss and to grieve that the four years you’ve spent here are soon concluding, especially since the pandemic has left an indelible mark on your experience. I can only imagine how hard it is to say goodbye right as the world starts to peek its head out from the past two years.

Maybe you feel betrayed that half your college years were snatched away, but you sigh with relief at never having to take a midterm again. Maybe you’re devastated that those who have become your chosen family are moving far away from you, but you’re excited to get out of Baltimore and thrive in a new environment.  

I can empathize with all those emotions, because I’m one of you — sort of. I graduated as a third-year senior in 2021, and as this time of year rolls around I can feel the cocktail of emotions rise again as I watch all of you graduate. 

I did not see my early graduation as a milestone; rather, it felt like prematurely ripping a scab from the wounds the pandemic had caused. Moreover, I could not attend my graduation ceremony as my circumstances did not allow for it, adding to the resentment I felt toward the world. I will say this though: One of the (relatively few) perks about a virtual graduation is that Commencement can end as soon as you turn off the TV.

So when the TV screen went black, and I was named an official graduate, one question lingered in my mind: Who was I beyond Hopkins? 

I did not have the answer to that question, but I knew at that moment what I needed most was time. In losing a sense of self, I needed to give myself time to rest, recover and, most importantly, heal to feel whole again.

To give myself more time, I decided to delay applying to medical school and put my life on hold for a year. I started a job at the medical campus at an entry-level position where I was at the bottom of the totem pole and thus not tasked with many responsibilities. In classic Hopkins fashion, I wanted to be given more work and was almost frustrated that things were easier than they were at Hopkins. Looking at my peers in high-powered careers, I felt like I made glacial progress and wasn’t doing enough. What on earth was I going to do with all this ample time?

Little did I realize that the flexibility of my job would be a blessing in disguise: Sometimes the best way to enjoy free time is to be free itself. Over this past year, I have done things that I never thought I was capable of, simply by saying “Why not?” From performing a dance given only two days of practice to lifting weights for the first time to winning a baking contest, I have found happiness in places I would have never thought to look. Productivity does not always equate tangibility; in fact, sitting idly with myself and my thoughts has been far more enriching for me than any career experience could.

That’s not to say that there weren’t bumps along the way. I spent all of last summer and fall applying to a dream fellowship, and everyone I knew thought I had a strong shot at winning. When I got my rejection letter last month after making it through the preliminary rounds, I was crushed. However, all wasn’t lost. Applying to the fellowship helped me prepare for my new future plans, which align better with my career goals. Even the minor setbacks have their purpose: In October, I tried out for a TED talk and ultimately got rejected, but that inspired the basis of this very article you’re reading. Time and time again, I have seen my successes be reborn from the ashes of my failures. 

As this May marks one year from my graduation, what I can definitively say is that my vision of happiness, as well as my priorities, have changed dramatically. I have found that I am happier living a calmer life: going home after my 9 to 5, cooking myself a comforting dinner, spending time with those who matter most and being able to intimately know Baltimore, all of which have nourished my soul. At the end of the day, since leaving Hopkins I think I’m doing okay.

Class of 2022, I want to tell you that you’ll be okay too. Life rarely goes according to the plans we make in our heads, but things end up working out, and you will be exactly where you need to be. Embrace the uncertainty of the future, because within uncertainty lies the potential for exciting things to happen. As you leave Hopkins, I want you to know that you have the power to live life on your own terms — only you can decide what your happiness looks like.

Though I’ll never get the satisfaction of walking across the stage, know that I’ll be cheering all of you on as you cross yours on May 22, ready to build your own lives.

All my love,

Ria

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