This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of two great college friends. The location of the wedding was just outside the city where we went to college, and although it had been nearly three years since I had visited this city or stepped foot on the college campus, I could not help but feel a strong sense of home and belonging in this small community.
Historically, this city has often been a brief stop on a much longer journey. When the railroad ran through upstate New York, first rail workers and then travelers would stay briefly within the city. Now, as home to two colleges, the city brings a different type of transitory group-students.
I think my reunion with so many alums and the campus triggered this consideration. I loved being a college student. I excelled at academics and I was surrounded by like -minded people who were my age. I was living in the real-world without real world responsibilities. Since commencement, I have frequently found myself longing for the solace of my peers in a classroom discussing Milton’s great works or the quite of the library on a Saturday morning as I composed an essay on the ethics of women’s rights.
This reflection on a long-awaited visit encouraged me to consider identity. For a long time during my rather short life, I have identified as a student. Even as I work for a college, I am often mistaken for a student (I think it is the glasses). One of the most beautiful parts of the liberal arts college experience is that it leaves students wanting so much more when they commence with this portion of their educative experience. Therefore, that period in my life as a college student, although transitory, encouraged an completely unimaginable transformation.
Now, I know that a transformation happened. I feel it in my being. To tell you what I changed from and into–well, I’m still trying to figure that out. The important part is that it occurred and I’m left with this conclusion:
To identify as a college student is simple. The expectations are clear. It is an admirable occupation. To identify as a college graduate is much more complicated. The expectations are higher and, in some cases, unobtainable. Success is expected. Immediately. When success is expected, we feel inadequate because, by 25, we do not have a high paying career, we are not the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg and we are struggling to find our place in the world.
Therefore, I guess, I have come to a rather long-winded understanding. I missed college because I knew what was expected. I have struggled for the last three years because I wanted to be someplace where I excelled. I moved back to my hometown and I had little to show for my dedication to the works of Austen and Hart.
But when we get held up in ideas of success, we miss out on what we experience now. We forget about the thank-you cards from students or the joy of renting our first apartment. And that I am 25-not only or already– I am 25 and need embrace this moment.
So, I suppose this wasn’t much a detour after all.