By Maggie Emerson
When I graduated from high school at 18, I felt like I could take on the world. I had a good understanding of myself and of the universe, and thought I could boldly walk into it and fulfill its lofty expectations. I guess that’s why 18-year-olds are the smartest people on the planet.
When I graduated from the University in May, I felt nothing short of terrified. Okay, maybe you could add “devastated.”
It came to a head in a room below the Health Center where I went to pick up my cap and gown with my roommate/best friend/superhero sidekick. We had to fill out a survey before we were handed the polyester robe of death,which sat in my bathroom until I absolutely had to take it out of the plastic and put it on. The last question on the survey was, “If you could do it all over again, would you choose Villanova?” We both cried and bubbled in the circle that said, “Definitely yes.”
I was terrified because I had no idea what I was going to do once I packed up my Home Props apartment and U-Hauled home to Massachusetts. I did not even really know what I wanted to do when I grew up. All I knew was that I did not want to graduate. I did not want to leave the campus that had become my home, the friends that had begun to feel more like essential limbs than they did separate people or my beloved Wawa.
I was in love with about 2,500 different things and this was poised to be the breakup of the century. (Sorry, Taylor Swift.)
I was terrified because I knew that in the real world it wouldn’t be acceptable to skip work and drive around Conshohocken listening to the “Les Miserables” soundtrack with your best friend and an open sunroof on a 40-degree day.
It wouldn’t be acceptable to drink four coffees from Wawa and stay up all night pretending you are Ke$ha. It really wouldn’t be acceptable to introduce yourself in a way that had to include a fun fact, such as name, major, biggest fear (Maggie, Communication and French, water chestnuts).
I knew it was unbecoming to act like graduation was the end of the world, and I knew that it wasn’t. I just thought it was the end of the person I had been up until then.
I was terrified because I loved who I was at the University more than I ever had anywhere else. Within a year I realized how ridiculous it was that I thought I had become who I was supposed to be at 18, because it was on South Campus that I became that person. And then it was on Main Campus. And then it was on West, in Europe while studying abroad and, finally, at Home Props. (Although I really should say at Falvey or Dougherty 201 or Kelly’s, because those are the places where I lived my senior year.)
I was defined by my college-student status, loved by my college-student friends and nourished by college cafeteria food. Also Campus Corner.
Seven months out, I can tell you the same thing everyone tells you: the transition is survivable. Somewhere along the line, you even start to thrive.
I have come to realize that one of the many purposes of college is to help you figure out who you are and align this with who you want to be.
Our University is generous enough to give us the skills and the opportunity to take that knowledge with us into this not-as-scary-as-we-thought “real world.”
While I still sometimes-—possibly histrionically-—equate not being at college anymore to the feeling of someone reaching into my body and pulling out a lung, there are other times that it feels like they only took something vestigial, like my appendix. And people almost always survive appendectomies.
Life away from the University isn’t so bad. I have taken what I learned with me out here to New England, and it seems to be doing me some good.
So don’t worry, you can still be your weird self in the real world. Just wait a couple of months before telling your co-workers that you have an alter ego named Peg and a mild obsession with left-handed people. They’ll accept you the same way your college friends did. Kind of.