I am really quite scared to write this post, because I don't know what it will say or even how I feel about it. This is going to be one of those personal posts that I need to write mainly so I can package everything I'm thinking onto paper and then walk away. It will be honest. It is pretty much for my benefit alone, although you are free to continue reading if you wish.
I am graduating next week from college.
Four years ago, when I graduated from high school, I was very sure of how I felt. I was horribly sad, I cried a lot, I was so terrified of the future that I used to feel sick at night and be unable to fall asleep for fear. In retrospect, you could either consider this behavior normal or completely deranged, but I'm sure most teenagers go through this period where you feel everything intensely. You're happy, and it's the greatest moment of your life. You're sad, and it feels like the world is ending. Everything seems especially profound. One minute, you firmly believe you will move to London and live a glamorous life, and the next, you're convinced you will actually be weird-smelling and homeless for the rest of your days.
I wanted everything to stay exactly as it was. I wanted to be friends with the same people I was friends with at the time for the rest of my life. I was not very good at meeting people, probably because I cared a lot about what everybody thought of me. I was afraid I was too nice, or too mean, or too much of a conformist, or too weird, or too skinny, or too shy, or too loud, or too ugly -- basically, I felt like I should present myself in a way that would be pleasing to everybody.
The end of high school was a confusing time, and it seemed like this huge milestone, like the end of a chapter, like a defining moment. I don't know if it actually was, but I suspect that I was right at the time. I am very different, neither better nor worse. Just different.
I used to believe that when I became an adult -- which I suppose for all intents and purposes, I am now -- I would have things figured out. What things? Well, adults are supposed to not have identity crises, to not worry so much about self-image, to be good cooks, to understand taxes, to read the Wall Street Journal in the mornings, to know what it means to be in love, to not have petty fights. Among other things. I guess when you are seventeen, you just think that one day all of these things will happen, and you will all of a sudden wake up self-assured, confident, know what (and who) you are looking for, and have perfect skin.
This magical moment of grown-up transformation never happened in college, although many other wonderful things I hadn't expected did. Some not-so-wonderful things happened too. I learned some fundamental truths (but perhaps in a few years, they won't be true at all, and I'll have learned a new set of truths).
I fell out of touch with old friends. (It wasn't so bad.)
I made new friends that I will inevitably fall out of touch with one day. (But it will be okay.)
I made a lot of irresponsible decisions. (I do not regret any of them.)
I became braver. I cared less about things that don't matter. I took time to love myself, even if it was in shallow ways like buying prettier clothes and doing my hair in the mornings. I dated; sometimes they asked and sometimes I did the asking. There were nights I did not make it back to my own bed. There were days when I chose to skip class because I just didn't feel like going. Sometimes, I threw up in inappropriate places. I was not a bad person (I think). I decided I actually loved meeting new people, and that I was good at it. I took chances on things I never thought I would. I also failed to take many chances that I badly wanted to. Alternatively, I believed in fate, or chaos, or God.
College was an interesting time. People always tell you that these are the best four years of your life and that they go fast. Did they go fast? Oh, yes. But the best four years of my life? I think an argument could be made for them being the best four years of my life so far. Fortunately or unfortunately for us, life does not end at college graduation. There are (hopefully) many more years to come, and I for one, certainly hope that life doesn't peak at the age of twenty-one.
College (and life) are funny, in that you enter by yourself (only you have your own background) and you leave by yourself (everyone will be going to different places and doing different things), and all you can do is try to make some passing connections with people while you're there. But if you really think about it, you're always stuck with you, and I guess it is probably useful to learn how to get along with yourself in that time. That's what adults are supposed to do, right? I don't know if I was totally successful at that, but I think I got better at it.
I wish I could say that when I graduate college, it will be the nice, tidy bow on top of four years I have spent here -- but I can't. I wish I could say that from this point forward, I will not have identity crises, I will have a perfect self-image, I will be a good cook, I will understand taxes, I will read the Wall Street Journal in the mornings, I will know what it means to be in love, and I will stop having petty fights. I don't think any of these things are true. I don't know if they will ever be true, although I hope that I learn how to do taxes, as a matter of practical importance. (I also hope I learn what it means to be in love, really be in love.)
When I graduated high school, I thought of it as a momentous pause, closure of some kind. Strangely, now that I am here, I don't think graduating college is a big milestone. I don't think I particularly need closure on anything, and I don't think it's the end of anything either. The thing is, I don't think there's any occasion in life when there's an aha! -- that magical finger-snap and you're someone different and better. I mean, sometimes when I'm happy, it still feels like the greatest moment in my life, and when I'm sad, it still feels like the world is ending. But I haven't gotten insomnia over my future in a while, and that seems like improvement.
Probably also when I was seventeen, being almost twenty-two sounded impossibly old. I had imagined I would have traveled extensively in Europe, learned how to be witty one hundred percent of the time, and gotten better taste in music. I am sure I'm a huge disappointment to seventeen-year-old me. Nevertheless, the things that seemed terribly important then do not seem to be so important now. What seems important now: to be kind, to remember that if someone loves you for something you are not it's the same as not loving you at all, and to tell people you love them if you do. To love yourself. To never assume you're done learning and growing.
So I won't think of graduation as a rite of adulthood, and I won't consider it the end of an era. When I write novels, I put everything in one long Word document and then I divide up the chapters after there's a complete draft, because it's easier to see where the natural breaks are when the whole thing is in front of me. And I think with life, it's probably the same.