Dear Class of 2017,
Hello from the other side! You are a week away from starting your senior year of college. I am at my parents’ house, with a degree but without a job, gazing wistfully at your back-to-campus snap stories while I plan out my next move. This is a love-letter in the form of some unasked-for advice.
1 . Get off campus
More of you have cars than ever! Explore off campus: the state parks and mountains you’ve been meaning to visit since freshman year, that Book Barn that people talk about? This is the time for Saturday afternoon excursions. Campus feels tired and small and being outdoors and away is good for you. I also think it’s important to see what being with your friends feels like outside the gates, especially if you don’t see each other during the summer. Go with friends or go by yourself, but a little bit of time away from the pressures and routines of campus life leaves you more able to enjoy the time you have left there.
2 . Take pictures
I graduated college with no pictures of my own – no pictures from parties, no pictures from hikes, no pictures from performances, no pictures from sitting on the hill. I really wish I had more visual reminders of what my time at college felt like. Take pictures of your self, take pictures of each other, take pictures of your favorite building on campus, take pictures of the collage of photos hanging above your desk. Almost everyone has a high-quality camera built into their phone; use it! And make sure you share them with your non-photo-taking friends.
3. Stay open
Senior year there’s a lot of pressure to spend as much time as possible with your friends before you are all separated by distance. But my senior year I also spent time growing friendships with people who I didn’t know all that well before. I wouldn’t trade the time spent with those friends for anything. When I transferred colleges, I worked hard to stay in touch with my friends from my old school and it happens that the people I’m closest with now are not the ones I was closest to then. Also, you don’t know who you’re going to be able to stay in touch with, who will happen to live on your block in 3 years, so being open now to new relationships and friendships opens up the future as well.
4. Don’t spend the whole year in your thesis carrel
Some of you have undertaken massive research and creative projects this year. I am both immensely proud and the opposite of envious. I know you will work incredibly hard on your thesis this year, but make sure you balance out your time and spend time with the people you care about. Thesis carrels can be very lonely and isolating (especially if yours doesn’t have a window). Your friends might not want to bother you since they know you are working so hard, so it could fall on you to make sure you’re meeting friends for dinner or getting together to watch a movie. Your non-thesis-writing friends are proud and a little bit worried, so take some time to relax.
5. Create nostalgia
I had some tough times at both of the colleges I went to but I wanted to make sure that I had positive memories to look back on. My senior year I made sure to do “college nostalgia” activities, the kinds of things that people fondly reminisce about. For me at my school, this meant sitting on Foss Hill in the middle of campus listening to a Counting Crows albums all the way through. It meant going to see annual dance performances for the first time. It meant playing the bass drum at football games. It meant taking the gospel choir music class that everyone loves. Maybe for you it means remembering to pause and appreciate the moment as you and your friends are getting ready for a night out. Or throwing a great party in your apartment. Or hooking up with someone on the third floor of the library. It may sound a little forced, but doing things purposefully meant that I appreciated it more in the moment and can look back on it more fondly now.
6. Don’t do things you don’t want to do
I hate pre-games. I have no fun at them, I am not good at telling other people “oh my god you look ~soooo good!!~!”, and there’s never any snacks. After too many semesters of going to a pre-game every weekend, I finally stopped. I also hate going out to potlucks, especially where I don’t know a lot of people. So I stopped. This shouldn’t be revolutionary but at times it felt like it was. I wish I had taken this further and switched out of classes I could already tell weren’t a good fit, I wish I had stopped spending one on one time with people who drained me. Remember that you don’t have a lot of time left at school and you shouldn’t waste that time doing things you don’t like and don’t have to do.
Senior year can be filled with stress and pressure, both from the intense academics and the outside world knocking on the door, but I hope you can take the time to learn and have fun and be with the people you care about.
Sending love from the post-grad world,