an ode to all those about to step forth into the world.
At 21 years old and about to leave the safety of the collegiate fold, one develops an uncanny knack for procrastinating real life. When everyone around you sees reality encroaching from the shadows like a Grim Reaper, peers tend to encourage drowning it in bottomless fifths of whiskey rather than be a depressive reminder that time is flying. But early last week, my good shepherd of a university decided to help us celebrate the end of life as we know it—festive intentions be damned, none of us were ready for the bold, red-lettered email reading “You’re Invited To… 100 Nights Until Graduation Senior Night Party!” Dumbfounded isn’t the word. “Christ” read a thousand blown minds. “I’m not ready for this.”
Senior year is a strange trip, particularly the second semester. It begins with a cannon blast of hedonism, nights regularly ending at dawn and more camaraderie than anyone’s displayed since freshman year. There is a “we’ve made it this far together” mentality that makes everyone, spurned lovers and former friends alike, willing to put aside the dramatics. But as the new year turns and the halfway mark races past, that excitement clouds with the thinly veiled anxiety of time ticking away. Adulthood is looming. The devil-may-care slacking of first semester seems foolish, and the word May starts to invoke a sort of feverish panic, the kind that leaves you 10 beers deep on a Wednesday and suddenly seized by an irrepressible imagined need to update your resume.
It would be one thing if we all felt the same trepidation, our collegiate knees knocking in unison as we stood before the diploma-bearing firing squad. But some people already have jobs—friends in the business school playing courtiers to Wall Street are winning favors, signing contracts to top firms with salaries that could pay off my student loans in a year. You go to impromptu bar celebrations for someone who just got an offer, smile over your grimace and clap them on the back before turning to the bar and gulping a shot of Jameson to match the jealous resentment burning through these strained bonds like stomach acid.
Because not all of us are business inclined or graduate school bound. We’ve been in school for at least 18 of our 21 years, sick of paying to sit still and listen to stuffy academics when the wide world is calling. Desks jobs and continuing educations don’t sit well with artists, writers, entrepreneurs anxious to get on with it, but, then again, neither does a flailing economy. These types of jobs aren’t readily available, and when the dust settles from a thousands caps thrown in commencement who knows where I’ll be? Unpaid internships march like good little soldiers across my resume but, so far, that unprofitable diligence has only earned me more of the same: “Thank you, please, may I have another?”
Though I’m “an asset” to my workplace now, when talk turns to salary wry smiles with a hint of pity tell me that, come late May, I’ll be joining the service industry ranks, slinging beers to Midtown junior executives that could be my fellow graduates in a year or two. There are thousands like me all eeking out a living in outer boroughs and hoping their part-time gig turns full-time before they’re forced back to parental shelter in suburbia. My roommates and I tell ourselves we’ll be better off—We’re doing what we love! In New York! Who says we need to resign ourselves to office life now? We have our whole lives to work. Let’s have fun!—but if that was wholly true, we wouldn’t feel quite so queasy. What happens when we can’t seek solace in the bed of a four year on-again, off-again flame, or skip class to get famously drunk on boxed wine?
All of this I hoped to keep at bay until April, at least. But this exclamatory email and the senior ball it heralded screwed me—us—royally. Putting a number on the days made it far too easy to count them down, and now I find myself mentally subtracting in spite of the ulcerous anxiety gnawing away at my composure. Only 93 days left… think you should stop watching Netflix and start applying for jobs? It’s hard to truly relax without an income, but it’s even harder to rally ambition when you can drown fears in a bottle of beer.
As I stood in the ballroom that 9th night in February, watching ex-lovers and friends burble to one another like the champagne in the flute I’m clutching for dear life, I think about how I won’t see most of these people ever again and how little I care. It’s one of those floating above the room movie moments, where people I’ve loved and lost or let go glide past, conjuring memories of sheepish smiles across warm beds on hungover Saturdays, and raucous laughter over brunch when friends fill in the holes where memory failed. In this ballroom filled with my entire graduating class, my college experience is boiling down to an interesting reduction. A few solid friends who’ve seen sad and happy tears, a damaged (some would say hardier) liver, and hazy yet warm memories of nights filled with gratuitous use of sex, drugs, and alcohol. The rest—extraneous drama, childish conflicts, problems that hardly deserve that being labeled as such—is slowly evaporating. Just like our time.
In moments of total quiet, you can almost hear the clock.
Consciously or not, I’ll keep counting down the days. When I pay my rent, when I make spring break plans, when relatives ask the date of graduation. Perhaps it’s my own way of facing my fear, though I can’t claim the bravado was self-induced. It’s thanks to that accursed email that I’m even venturing to stretch my legs and tiptoe over to adulthood. I took a screenshot of the email, labeled it “what?”, and saved it in a buried file of old photos; one day I’ll stumble upon it again and, like a time capsule buried in the backyard, dredge up memories of what it was like to stand on the edge of the rest of my life. 100 days before the plunge.