A Message for the Class of 2010

by Benjamin Kimble, , May 6, 2010

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I've always been a little late to the show, so to speak, when it comes to pop culture. I can't count on two hands how many bands and songs I have grown fond of, well past the height of their popularity. I read "The DaVinci Code" years past its peak of controversial notoriety, and I just started watching the television phenomenon known as "Lost" in the last couple of months. For those that aren't familiar with it, let me just say that it goes without saying for the ones who are, that it is quite addictive. Anyway, I only mention this because I have spent the better part of this semester, my final semester at Cortland, consumed by this show. I have spent many a night staying up far later than I had any business staying up (knowing my one year old would be waking me up bright and early), and countless days putting off important papers, catching up on every episode ever made of this show (on Hulu.com for those who care).

Despite my negligence, I'll be graduating on the 22nd with my bachelor's degree in English, and I couldn't be happier. Except that I am scared to death. Well, maybe "to death" is too dramatic. It's just that since I graduated high school, 8 years ago, college is really all I have known. I mean, don't get me wrong - I've taken some time off, I've had jobs (both part-time and full-time), I've been married, and I've even had kids. In other words, I have grown up; I have lived life. However, I realize now that things are about to get even more serious, and I'm unsure what the future holds. Fittingly, I will forever associate my final days at Cortland with "Lost."

A lot of the uncharted territory that awaits typical college graduates, I have already explored. But the fear factor for an individual such as myself is the unpredictability of vocational endeavors. That and a life that doesn't revolve around driving to school, going to classes, meeting with peers and professors, taking tests, and doing homework. Think about that for a second. College absolutely dominates your life. When you're in it, you're busting your butt doing it; when you're not in it (ie. winter and summer break), you're thinking about it. Yet a certain comfort accompanies all of that hard work and consuming lifestyle - a pressure-free existence.

Of course all college students are working toward something significant, but in the process, most realize that they won't be doing anything of actual consequence until they graduate. It's kind of like the Roman Catholic concept of purgatory. Students are in educational and professional limbo, where school is life and the workforce is heaven (or hell, depending on your outlook). In between is important, but as important? I'm quite certain that most would say "no." After all, we go to college as a means to an end - to ensure that we get a good job, career etc. If college were truly more important, then wouldn't it be the other way around?

In any case, it really is a scary thing to enter into the unknown. And the transition from college to employment - meaningful employment - is intimidating. Now, before I go any further, let me clarify what I mean by "meaningful." Obviously, there are endless exceptions to every rule, and the kind of jobs that college students hold is no different. I have known several classmates who have had jobs that they truly enjoyed, were compensated well for, or that truly made differences in people's lives. However, the one consistency that almost always materializes is that, no matter how happy any of these people were, there was invariably something missing. What that "something" was, is irrelevant; the point is that the pursuit of a college degree has nothing to do with frivolous values ascribed to specific jobs and everything to do with pride and personal satisfaction - both attributes that come with a price, which brings me back to the fear factor.

Aside from the obvious difficulties of finding a job in the current economy, it's understandably a bit unnerving to finally have to pigeonhole yourself into a specific field of work. Isn't that ironic? You spend four years, maybe more, putting your all into something that opens doors for you; yet, a college degree only opens specific doors. Realistically, you could do anything you wanted (within certain parameters), same as before college. But ideally, you don't want to waste all that time and effort getting a degree in sports management by working as a server at Applebee's, or something of the like. What happens is that you're left with this burden of having to demonstrate and use the specific knowledge and specialized skills that correspond with whatever words appear on that diploma. That should be a good thing, though, right? Here would be the opportunity you've been waiting for, an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack and show how valuable an asset you can actually be. But the caveat is, what if you can't do it? Right around graduation is when those feelings of self-doubt and wavering confidence creep in like water trickling through a crack in the floor. You don't want to fail, because that would mean you let yourself and everyone around you down. If that's not straight up terrifying, then I don't know what is.

One of the most unexpected consequences of being done with college is the "fish out of water" syndrome, where it's difficult to assimilate into society because of two factors: 1) it's only natural that you've become too comfortable with the lifestyle college provides, one in which you're supposedly on your own, yet technically have a myriad of people and services at your beck and call; and 2) you're not really sure what to do when you're not being told what to do. The former speaks for itself - immediately following graduation, your email, parking pass, ID card, and subsequent access to all things SUNY are immediately revoked. You officially have to make the shift from VIP to average Joe. The distinction between the two factors is that the former is what happens, whereas the latter is what's going to happen. Now the transition is from one who asks to one who does. Not only are your resources limited, but you also have to take a proactive, rather than reactive, role in your own development. No more advisors. No more professors. It's just you and the unknown path that lies before you.

The good news amidst all this fear and uncertainty is that I have confidence in myself - as should you. Yes, we are all about to embark on a journey that is both challenging and unfamiliar, but we can do it. One of the more enduring quotes that derived from my intensive viewing of "Lost" was said by a man who gets on a plane paralyzed from the waist down, only to crash on a mysterious island, suddenly and miraculously able to walk again. He says, on more than one occasion, "don't tell me what I can't do!" What that means to me is that no one can put limits on us but ourselves. We are in control of our own destiny, and we don't need a magical island to do us any favors. We just need a little diligence, determination, and desire to succeed.

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