A few weeks ago, I graduated college. Yep, I know.. it's crazy! Four incredible years flew by at my dream university. I remember visiting schools in February of 2012, just months before I would make my decision and knowing from the minute I stepped foot on Quinnipiac's campus that that was where I needed to be. Despite some tough times - lost friends, breakups and makeups, drunken nights and hungover mornings, hard classes and ones that pushed me out my comfort zone - Quinnipiac and college managed to be everything I thought it would be and so so so much more.
As I moved my tassel to the left, and tears poured out my eyes (true story, I sobbed the minute I sat back in my chair after crossing the stage), the first thing to cross my mind wasn't "YAY" or "I did it!", it was "now what?"
Anti-climactic, I know - but I stood there, surrounded by my friends and fellow graduates and I realized it was the end of an era. Not only was I saying goodbye to my time at Quinnipiac, to my best friends and to the people and the place that became family and home to me, I was also saying goodbye to college Caroline. From here on out, I had to be adult Caroline, and to be honest, I wasn't ready for that. Adult Caroline has to work every single day. Adult Caroline can't go to the senior bar on a Monday. Adult Caroline can't put off doing laundry another week. Adult Caroline can't live in college t-shirts and eat dining hall food and drink cheap liquor and take personal days because she feels like it. Sadly, adult Caroline has to be an adult. I kind of felt like adulthood was just hitting me in the face..
But to be honest, these things didn't scare me that much. Yeah, it sucks to be a responsible adult, but we all have to do it at some point. Plus, I've already established that none of us really have our shit together. What scared me the most was that for the first time in my life, I don't have a plan. I don't have five courses registered for next semester. I don't have my on-campus job and my role as an RA anymore. I don't have my best friends within walking distance. I no longer have access to amenities like gyms, food and electricity for free. From the minute I moved that tassel to the left of my cap, I realized I had no idea what comes next.
The "now what?" paradox, I call it. You see, college is a trap! You go off to college and have four incredible (albeit challenging) years. You make meaningful friendships and relationships and lifelong memories. And at the end of those four years, you just leave. That's it. You say your goodbyes and you move on from the incredible times you shared, from all of your favorite places, and everything you've known the last four years. It's bullshit! You're left standing in an oversized gown and a decorated cap, thinking "what happens now?"
And that's okay. It's okay to not know what happens next. It's okay to spend the summer babysitting and working at the restaurant you used to waitress at in high school and re-adjusting to life at home before you figure out your career and what comes next. And if you're one of the lucky few that graduated with a job, it's okay to not know what happens next, to not know how to maneuver the job force and the real world, to be scared being the fresh meat at your new company. It's only natural.
So as I stood in my cap and gown, smiling through the tears and hugging my friends and family, I thought "now what?". And as I boarded my plane for Trinidad as I moved home for God knows how long, I thought "now what?". And as I unpacked my suitcases, re-adjusted to life at home and spent time with my family and friends, I thought "now what?" And even as I opened this laptop tonight, I still think "now what?"
And for the first time in my life, that's okay. Not knowing what comes next is the beauty of it all. Now is the time to embrace the unknown. To figure it all out as it comes.. and just take a breath. Because, at the end of the day, it'll always work out. I may not have a job in my field right now, I may not be living in New York City like I always dreamed of, I may not be making six figures and have the closet I've always wanted. But what I do have is determination and drive (and a college degree, damn it!) and a will to make it work.
So yes, I miss college. Yes, I miss screaming the words to the song "Shout" with my best friends at a bar. Yes, I miss being overly-involved and going to events for free t-shirts and free pizza. Yes, I miss pulling all-nighters in the library with my just-as-exhausted-and-stressed friends. Yes, I miss laying out on the quad when the warm weather rolls around. Yes, I miss putting on all my Quinnipiac gear to pack TD for another hockey game. Yes, I miss every sorority philanthropy event we hosted. Yes, I miss my best friends and being carefree knowing that it'll all fall into place. But you know what they say... the best is yet to come.
(by the way, my cap was decorated by the very talented Tesni from Mud and Muscles!)