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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Ya Dig? “Post-grad” angst

“So…” they always start, as I silently beg for any other question besides what I know is coming, “have you thought about your post-grad plans?”

I always feel like answering with: “Well not really, I mean I plan to wake up in the morning and make myself some kind of healthy but cheap breakfast, maybe I’ll own a smoothie machine or something. Anyway, then I will go to a job for money during the day, and then after that I’ll probably tend my garden because I’ve recently been thinking how great it would be to pick my own tomatoes.” Unfortunately answer does not categorize me in a neat little box that makes adults and friends my age both sigh with relief.

We are eager to see ourselves and each other as subscribing to an identity that fits within the larger metanarrative of how students like ourselves are supposed to make a living in the “real world.” As students that attend an institution currently rebranding for the purposes of developing an “elite” reputation, we are allowed to mention graduate school, a fellowship, a volunteer program or a concrete career goal that we are “actively” pursuing. But what if you don’t vocalize a concrete goal, or if you instead mention your intent to hold a food-service job for a summer, (or god forbid, even a whole year,) after graduation? Then, there is a struggle to fit you into this tidy post-grad narrative that we’ve all been taught: the unsaid assumptions of what kind of jobs “people like us” are meant for, and implicitly, for what jobs we aren’t meant for.

One reason I don’t like answering the increasingly inevitable post-grad question with any clarity is precisely because I don’t believe there can be clarity when I am still an undergraduate student. I don’t want to set this hypothetical future “post-grad” version of myself hurtling down a specific and linear career path of “writer” or “professor” or “non-profit worker.” This is because I don’t want to internalize this hypothetical identity and start unconsciously discounting other opportunities. People are changing careers more than ever these days, or so I hear, so listing just one path seems out of touch anyway.

More broadly, when I think of “post-grad,” I imagine much more than what I will do to make a living. I get slightly deflated when I think of defining the entirety of our lives outside of Grinnell by just what we do to make money. When I think of “post-grad” I imagine the new friendships I will make after Grinnell, the new hobbies I will acquire, the new town or city I will live in. To me, a portrait of my “career path” or just what I will being doing to make money is much more hazy and uncertain than other goals: my goal to live somewhere new that challenges me, to surround myself with funny and interesting people, to one day get a dog. But really I don’t know what anything in my life will look like after I graduate. This is precisely what I like—the endless possibilities of a “post-grad” future. It is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time to know that my “post-grad” existence will most likely look nothing like my expectations and assumptions. Indeed, my portrait of these “funny and interesting people” and I having a raucous dinner party, or even me sitting at a desk working towards something I care deeply about, remains nothing more than a fantasy I indulge on my walk to Burling.

When people ask me about “post-grad” I just shrug and leave it ambiguous. I know lots of people actually do have concrete plans for the year after they graduate Grinnell, but even so, I think it is important to define “post-grad” as not just that one year, but the rest of our lives. I would much prefer the question, “What are you planning on doing in the coming months after graduation?” This question would make me less inclined to try to predict some career path I think I would like to have at the oh-so-sagacious age of twenty, based on a future self I think I might become. Perhaps the next time I hear this nebulous term of “post-grad,” I may just answer “Well, I really don’t know what I’m going to be doing when I’m 58.”

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