On June 10, 2017, I graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology with a double minor in History and Interdisciplinary Honors. I walked down the field of Tomlinson Stadium at 9:30 in the morning --this was my moment. I smiled to my parents, family, and friends as I made my way to my seat. I listened to some brilliant speeches and felt duly empowered as I walked across the stage to shake hands with CWU’s president. Hugged and congratulated by my professors and advisers I walked off full of pride and relief. I had done it. The first in my immediate family to graduate from university.
Why then, did I feel so down after graduation? I should be celebrating, diploma in hand as I kick down the oft-alluded-to doors of opportunity.
In the interest of saving you weeks of turmoil and hours of dialogue I will summarize what I concluded to be the cause of my post-grad blues.
1. I had just left the place I called home, and more specifically, the community that colored my home. The students I went to class with, mentored, and became friends with were no longer my immediate social circle.
2. Life outside of CWU is slow. Restful at first and then painfully slow. I am acclimated to fast-paced, all-day learning with a thousand-item checklist and two part-time jobs. Without program planning for my dorm students, group trainings, office meetings, visitation tours, or daily admin tasks, I felt unproductive, ineffectual, and lost.
3. Two part-time jobs left me with a sense of belonging, ownership, and pride in my department, community, and larger campus. I worked as a Peer Mentor for three years helping students adjust to college life and the pace of the William O. Douglas Honors College (10/10 would recommend) and wrapped up my college career as a student ambassador recruiting new students to the DHC via a brand- new system. I have never minded terribly what job I do as long as I have a worthwhile cause, some sort of routine, a clear set of goals, and cooperative co- workers. For me it is about doing whatever I’m tasked with well, feeling competent, and learning as I go.
I spent four years working hard to enter the workforce to become a connected and informed global citizen with the skills to uncover the answer to what I should be doing with my life.
Fast forward 8 months ….
“What will you do now?”
The words stared back at my burning eyes through the glaringly bright screen frozen on a Facebook comment. At each new crossroad, someone has asked me this very question, which borders on situational imprudence. This often also occurs during times of great personal incoherency for me.
I had the typical knee-jerk reaction to write something salty and cutting about the depths of apathy from impoverished America but was overcome by a pang of panic, followed by momentary paralysis. “What the fuck will I do?” For once my brain fell silent. Eerily silent.
I always imagined how great nothingness would feel. No thoughts, no weight, no cares, no ticking, no time — nothing, the absence of everything. That nothingness would radiate from within me and begin to overtake my life never occurred to me. Deep belly laughs became forced smiles, compassion became going through the motions, happiness became unsustainable, and dreams became unmentionable. With each recovery and new plan, I lost another portion of positivity, motivation, and self-identity. How could the person staring blankly into space in an old tear-streaked sweatshirt be the same person who had noble aspirations just eight months ago?
I graduate university.
“What will you do?”
“Find a local job to pay off my loans for two years before backpacking the world.”I struggle making minimum wage at a job that spurs the inevitable identity crisis that leads me back to family, out of the town in question, and onto a radically different plan.
I move “home” to find my calling and seek employment in the city.
“What will you do?”
A myriad of aptitude tests, self-help books, and painful soul searching which reveal little, lead to a line of unattainable careers, and leave me discontented and directionless. I apply for a wide array of entry-level positions, get rebuffed or ignored for four months, and recalibrate to consider a Master of Library and Information Science program. Books, literacy, quiet programs, education, inclusivity, organization, safety… fulfillment and financial security. I regain some of what makes me, me. Four more months pass.
“Home” becomes an apparition, savings become a vanishing act, and goals become elusive.
“What will you do?”
… cold sweats consume my body day and night …
“I said, what will you do? I’m worried for you Shyann. Aren’t you worried?”
I panic alone, exhaust my emotions, and drain my energy on things beyond my control. Each new line of questioning becomes an interrogation, holding a burning lamp to my brow and wrenching my stomach. Everyone wants answers I can’t even provide for myself.
I find a home, throw out expectations and others’ promises, live off Uncle Sam’s credit, and attempt to roll with the punches. I make tepid jokes so that no one begins to see me the way I feel and tire of perceived ‘avoidable’ negativity. I push to find silver linings and continue on with the job search while awaiting my graduate school response. I reconcile my life with the cards I have been dealt and manage to carry on, only binging on an entire cheesecake once in the process — seemingly, the only achievement I have made post-graduation.
The clouds part, the sun emerges, and I find a promising new job prospect directly applicable to my training and experience — complete with fulfillment and a living wage — am told to expect an interview, and eagerly await the chance to resume my life and be useful again.
My necessities keep recurring. My brakes break — twice. My phone is totaled after a pathetically tiny fall onto the interior flooring, and with it snaps the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.
My emotional reservoir erupts over the steadily weakened hope dam. Of all things. Of all days. Sorry, Uncle Sam — add it to my tab.
If the former is a sign, the latter is an omen. Who/what is in charge of these mixed signals?
With every storm comes a calm though, right? After what felt like an eternity, I found a great job, my self-worth, and a bright future.
For all the recent grads out there: don’t give up.