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  • Writer's pictureAnne Pearson, Bellarmine University

Reflecting on a Year Post-Graduation

“So what comes next?”

This question, or a variation of it, is a constant motif which plays in the ear of any upcoming university graduate, especially first-generation college students or those who come from communities of color where the pressure, the weight of expectation, is greater.

When asked this question a year ago, I would have laid out a future where I moved to Washington, D.C., took a job with an organization where I had previously interned and then found a research position which would have set me on the path towards graduate school. I had such clean plans.

I could not have envisioned that I would be working a part-time job in a bookstore in D.C. having left my initial post to recover from a stretch of the worst mental health I’d ever experienced, brought on in part by a lack of constructive feedback at the job which I’d anticipated would be a perfect fit.

More importantly though, I could not have predicted how content I am. Despite the roller coaster drops, or perhaps because of them, I have been able to move away from defining success by the accolades and clearly outlined measures of accomplishment that were available in college to smaller moments of happiness like eating good food with a friend or watching the sunset from various points on the National Mall. Had the version of myself who graduated in the spring 2022 seen these realities, she might have considered herself a failure. Might have considered me a failure. But these pure and precious moments came despite my plans post-graduation, not because of them.

If I could offer her and other recent graduates some advice for the year to come, not trying to posit myself as some all-knowing 23-year-old but rather as someone who has recently gone through a similar experience, here are the somewhat clichéd things I would suggest:

  • The only guarantee for the next few months is that you will have to grow and adapt as life keeps moving. Try to choose what is best for you in the moment over the expectations you might have for yourself because life will keep coming one way or another.

  • Figure out what home means to you when a definition is not readily available. Is it defined by the spaces you live in, the people who share those spaces with you, the experiences you can create for yourself? That definition will expand over the course of the year, but seek that feeling out as much as possible and record your experiences with it so you can look back on them.

  • Go easy on yourself. The first year out of university is rough regardless of how perfectly you approach it, and it will impact your mental health. Try to give yourself grace, use any resources you have access to, and remember that we’re young; we’re not supposed to have our lives figured out.

  • Say yes to new experiences as you are able; new friends can come out of the least expected places.

  • Focus on the key qualities of who you want to be over the accomplishments you want to have, and try to work those qualities into your actions when possible.

Throughout all these pieces of advice runs a common thread: equal empathy and compassion for yourself and for others. Whatever struggles you encounter in the coming year, you are not alone.


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