Today was the first day of school for many of my friends. For the first time in 18 years I am not returning. To be frank, that makes me very uncomfortable.
People talk about graduating from college as the start of a whole new chapter. New jobs, graduate school, new apartments, exciting opportunities. I’ve literally heard these words, but none of them prepared me for the complicated web of emotions that I’ve felt this summer.
Accomplished. Anxious. Exhilarated. Scared. Confused. Failure. Disconnected. Free. The list goes on.
I think back to when I started college. I remember being stupidly excited. I wasn’t anxious about moving out of my parents’ house or meeting new people. At that point, I think 17 year-old me was beyond ready to get out and college was my ticket.
I do remember being worried that my professors at the school of music would see through my lack of innate musical talent and tell me to switch majors. Yet, five years later, I somehow managed to dupe them all into giving me a Bachelor’s of Music.
Thinking back to my high school to college transition, I don’t remember feeling confused or existential. Living in the resident’s halls, taking random philosophy classes, meeting so many people that I can’t remember all of their names and faces. I was too busy having fun that first year, too busy being independent for the first time to feel homesick.
It is this summer–the summer after college graduation–that has me feeling like I’m truly leaving home for the first time. And with that departure, I feel a sense of loss and a sense of being lost.
Ironically, I’m currently living at home with my parents.
The concept of home. This is the crux of the matter. People say, “Home is where the heart is.” Well I say, “Home is where you feel safe and at peace.” And for the last 18 years of my life, that place has been school.
I’m not saying that just because I love learning, which I do. I’m saying that because for the last 18 years of my life I have been able to wake up everyday and count on going to school in the fall. My relationship with education has been the rock in my life.
From elementary school to college, whenever I felt like life was too overwhelming I knew I could always rely on my studies for some sense of normalcy. The practice of returning to something every day was calming in an almost ritualistic and meditative sense.
Wake up, go to class, listen to teachers, do homework. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Two cross continental US moves, a less than perfect home life, the lack of an adult support system in my adolescence. There were periods in my life when I felt like the inevitable return to school was the only thing I could consistently count on. And recently, with my decision to move abroad and not to go immediately to graduate school, my safe haven is gone.
Earlier this summer, I had a friend tell me that post-graduate life was like stepping off the conveyor belt. And for some reason, this image stuck with me. It has given me a framework to think about the all the mixed emotions that I’ve been feeling since graduation.
There have been many times this summer when I have asked myself, “You love school, you’re goal oriented, why didn’t you choose to continue straight through school? Why are you going off into the unknown?”
Then I conjure the image of the conveyor belt and I think back to a poem I read in high school English class, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.
Ages and ages hence from now, I don’t want to sigh from regret. Because of the relationship I have with school, staying on the conveyor belt is what I’m most comfortable with. It’s my road always taken.
As I’m getting ready to go to France, as I’m letting graduate application deadlines pass and other opportunities go, I’d be lying to say that I’m confident in my decision. I’m kind of lying to you when I say, “I’m so ready to get the hell out of Salt Lake.”
Because the truth is, the choice to move abroad for me is not just about a “neat and tidy gap year” or the idea of “self-exploration” that so often drips with socioeconomic privilege. It’s about me consciously choosing departure. It’s representative of a larger decision to take my life down a path that scares me in the hopes that it changes me for the better.