The Future and Me: A Senior Considers Life After Graduation

Nora Turriago ’16
Opinions Editor 

There is something distinctly unnerving about the question: “What are your plans after graduation?” Do not be fooled by the polite tone of voice or the curious smile – whoever is asking this question doesn’t care that you simply have no idea what you will be doing for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if you have a daily standing appointment with the Lazarus Center or if you have replaced your countless hours on Facebook with the adult version: LinkedIn. It doesn’t matter if, frustrated after countless hours of job searching to no avail, your Google searches start to resemble the frantic fear of your unconscious. Googling “How do I get a job?” becomes “Is it okay to live at home for the next ten years?” which, in turn, leads to “I have so much student debt, and I cry every night, ‘Can you help me please dear lord?’” Instead, faced with this loaded question about life after graduation, seniors are expected to have a satisfying yet simple reply, something that demonstrates stability (“I have a job!”) and high achievement (“It’s at this prestigious company!/I only had to undergo four unpaid summer internships to demonstrate my commitment to the field!/I’ll be making more than my parents – combined!”). So what happens when you don’t have a clear-cut answer? Or, more appropriately, what happens when you don’t know what the heck is in store for you after graduation? Dear readers, welcome to senior year.

Even before the academic year began, I was busily making plans and researching countless options – varying from graduate school to fellowships to teaching English to working locally. I was all over the place, fueled by this pressure I put on myself to have a job – which, no doubt, would be directly related to my ideal career and pay quite handsomely, thank you very much – come May 15. This pressure was related to the incredible scariness of the future. What happens after Smith? I HAVE NO IDEA AND IT’S TERRIFYING! Luckily, with the help of my parents, I was able to calm down. “Relax,” they told me. “You’re 22. No one is expecting you to have a career at age 22.” (I debated if I should tell them that many graduating Smithies have high paying and, indeed, career-worthy jobs, most notably that of the investment banker). They encouraged me to hone in on opportunities that spoke to my genuine interest, rather than applying to everything simply because it was there.

Slowly, I eased up on myself. Life is not a straight line – what I do after graduation is not necessarily what I’ll be doing it my entire life. Hopefully what I do will be connected to my interests, and I can build upon it for the future. I have time to change my mind or try something new. And, most importantly, though I associated the future with terror – oh the mind numbing blindingly white terror of the unknown! – it’s actually something that is incredibly exciting. Real life beckons and I’ll be there, with a Smith degree in hand and a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm. Repeat after me seniors: It is going to be okay. It is going to be okay! Wherever you go, there you are.

For the past few months, I have been sharing this perspective with my fellow seniors, as talk of life after Smith can come with a side order of nerves, sadness and anxiety. How do you manage to stay sane and excited for life after Smith, when you have no clear idea about the future – let alone job prospects – but you’re surrounded by other seniors who have several jobs lined up plus an acceptance to law school? It’s a question that I’ve heard often and there is no easy answer. It requires a mixture of keeping perspective, building a supportive network, talking to professors, family, folks at the Lazarus Center and other seniors, as well as even looking up alternative options to the job search (teaching English abroad, AmeriCorps, applying to graduate school). I do, however, have one easy answer to a difficult question. When faced with the question “what are your plans for after graduation?” simply smile and respond, “I’m going to take a nap.”