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Dear College Senior: You Don't Have to Have Everything Figured OutElizabeth Spencer
My oldest child recently returned to campus for her final semester, happy to see friends, looking forward to fun and challenge during these last precious months of college, and of course excited for her expected graduation in May. Meanwhile I am completely overwhelmed thinking about the long and demanding list of things she needs to accomplish in such a short time. Does she have any idea what she’s in for?
In addition to diving into the job search, she’s taken on two capstone projects (large, in-depth assignments for credit and honors recognition), one in each of her majors. She’s involved in a number of theater productions, has an off-campus job, all while staying on top of her classwork since this is her last chance to bump up her GPA, which might be important if and when she decides to apply to grad school.
I’ve become more sympathetic to all those millennials who return home exhausted and sleep for a couple of months after graduation, working on their resumés and job applications in the early afternoons at the local coffeehouse. The college exit certainly seems more demanding than I remember it.
Right now, at the beginning of this messy process, my daughter's eyes sparkle with hopes and dreams. She wants to live abroad; can envision many fulfilling careers; is making tentative plans to do projects with friends (simultaneously in different cities it seems). I’m excited for her and easily get caught up in her enthusiasm.
Experience, though, tells me that, sooner than she’d like, she will have to make choices. By the end of May, she’ll at least need to know where to ship her boxes and forward her mail, even if that’s home. The first job or internship offer will come and she may face a difficult decision to compromise or wait for that perfect, most-hoped-for situation.
I try to remember how I felt during my own senior spring but find it hard to connect with my past self and that untethered time of seeing possibility everywhere I looked. The weight of cumulative adult responsibilities — a house, a car, insurance, shopping, cleaning and raising two children — makes it hard not to say to my daughter, “plan, earn, now is NOT the time to mess around.” Then I catch myself, knowing this really is that time in her life, the best chance she’ll have to take risks and venture into the unknown.
So when she mentions, almost off-handedly, that she’s applied to the Peace Corps and requested placements in distant countries I’ve never seen, I say, “That’s exciting!” with as much conviction as I can muster. When she mentions a friend asked her to direct a play this summer, for no money, I remark, “How fun!” while choking back the questions about how she’ll pay the rent.
I won’t be the naysayer; still, I do my best to inject reality into our discussions, balancing support for her dreams with practical considerations. With each proposal I help her think through how she can make it work, what she can expect from me and what she’ll have to solve on her own.
One of my jobs as her parent is to worry about her choices and her future. Another is to push her to find those moments when she will leap with excitement and joy. Her graduation will be one such moment, leading to another and another I hope...if she feels free, at least for now, to follow her heart.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!