Congratulations, Class of 2014: You made it out!
Part of the graduation ritual is sitting there in an uncomfortable outfit pretending to pay attention while Some Person From Somewhere speaks boringly and at length. Unlike the rest of college, this is good preparation for life. A far, far higher percentage of actual life consists of sitting there in an uncomfortable outfit while Some Person From Somewhere tells you something long and boring than anyone has prepared you to believe.
But this is only the first of many rude awakenings.
Here, with all the authority of my four years out of college, is what they have not told you:
• You were absolutely right to protest your graduation speaker. This is the last time that anyone on the planet will do anything explicitly because a group of 22-year-olds asks them to do it (except the people who make TV programming), and dang it, you should savor it. Keep that robe on as long as you possibly can.
“Hundreds of recent college graduates object to what I have to say? Oh. I’m sorry. I won’t say it, then” is a set of phrases you will never hear again. And if you don’t believe that this is the last time in your life that getting together with a large number of your peers and making a big petition fuss about something will change the world, try hashtivism.
• No one will ever put a fruit or vegetable in front of you again unless you explicitly ask for one. This is very exciting until the scurvy-like symptoms kick in.
• Your commencement speaker may not have a job either. Aaahh, the economy!
• All the habits you were urged to cultivate in high school — waking up early, getting a good night’s sleep, taking a brief break for lunch and then returning to the grind — were actually decent preparation for the workforce.
Unfortunately, that was high school. And you were just in college, where the habits you cultivated were the exact opposite of that: stumbling into the back of a lecture hall half an hour after the 2 p.m. lecture begins, nursing a horrible hangover. These habits are exactly as counterproductive in the workplace as they are impossible to unlearn.
• The good news is: This economy means that you are likely to turn out less narcissistic than people who came of age in sunnier economic climes.
The bad news is: This may in fact be a handicap for participating in society, especially on the Internet, where everybody is required to act like he thinks his life is wildly interesting at all times, even on days when all he did was read the Internet and eat a sandwich.
• You may never win another prize again. So much for those years of being handed soccer trophies for being the Best At Just Standing There At The Edge Of The Field. So much for years of getting grades.
Now you are entering the workforce, and there is no more hardware. The only way to get a prize as an adult is to apply for one, a process that combines all the enjoyment of filing your taxes with all the enjoyment of writing 300-word blurbs about yourself and your hobbies. Even then you may not win.
Sure, some things feel like prizes. Getting a job can feel like getting a prize, but then you have to wake up in the morning and go do that thing every day until you die, retire, somebody decides you should not have that job any longer or the Yellowstone supervolcano goes off. Getting married can feel like getting a prize, but then you have to spend the next 40-ish years shutting the door to the bathroom when you’re using it.
• Time passes, and you realize that, of the people whose Facebook statuses you Like and tweets you favorite on a daily basis, you actually have not spoken to the majority in years. It feels like you’re in contact, but you’re not actually in touch. Those that you actually communicate with are all on an arbitrary email chain for sending work-inappropriate images.
This can lead to awkwardness when you run into a mutual acquaintance and the conversation goes like this:
Acquaintance: Oh, yeah, (Name)! Do you keep in touch with him at all?
You: Oh yeah, oh sure yeah. I uh, I, the other day he sent me a picture of an alarming racist figurine.
Acquaintance: So, what’s he up to?
You: I could not possibly say.
(An awkward pause ensues. You surreptitiously check your phone.)
You: Facebook says he has a child? Looks like he, uh, got married in the process of doing that, so, hey, good for him.
You: Life, right?
• The longer your life goes on, the smaller the proportion of it that you will have spent at college. Try to live life in a way that reflects this information.
I have not successfully identified the precise moment in your 20s when telling people about That Time In College stops being a good icebreaker and makes you seem like a sad man- or womanchild who needs to go out and do real-life things now, but I assure you it is there. Don’t be caught on the wrong side of it.
And good luck! (Yes, they’ll tell you that, but you’ll need it.)Alexandra Petri blogs for The Washington Post at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost.