One Month Left: What’s After The Finish Line?

If you want total transparency — I’ve been preparing this column since last year.

Last year, on a cold night in February, I was working in the bakery of Tops all alone, doing closing tasks like taking out logs of frozen bread and donuts and putting them on a rack to defrost for the next day. While I mindlessly emptied boxes of frozen baked goods I was texting my friend about her graduation plans for that semester and while I did so the nothingness that was my own future — only one year away — hit me like a freight train.

Every Tops closing shift after that reminded me to think about the fact that I had absolutely zero solid plans about what to do with my life.

The Oracle has a long-standing tradition of terrified 21-year-old members of the staff musing on their post-graduation plans in a column. See Jake Mauriello’s “Vienna Waits for You: Musings on Life, Time and 20” and Madalyn Alfonso’s “Turning 21: Getting Drunk on Existential Dread.” I even stumbled upon a 2011 article dealing with the same worries. 

But when I copy-edited the first two stories during my sophomore year of college I found them so entertaining knowing that wasn’t something I had to worry about yet. Back then, post-graduation was just a hazy idea of a thing far away in the future. I had just finished my freshman year. I knew back then that just making the most of my college experience was what was important. I’d figure everything else out in time. 

But nothing is scarier when facing the future than how fast it got here. It’s been over a year since my four hour Tops shift of existential dread, which is also when I took out my phone and started writing this column for my future self to reflect on one day. So if you happen to find a disconnect between the first part of this column and the end it’s because I’m co-writing it with my junior year self. Unfortunately I’m not as eloquent as she is.

My senior year self has a clearer idea of the future at least. And I no longer work at Tops which is a plus. I have a post-graduation plan now, I do. The fact is that a lot of what I do over the next month will determine whether or not it happens. And I find that I keep it under wraps when someone who I’m not close to asks me what’s next for fear of jinxing it. Or I feel like everything’s hypothetical until I’m actually doing it. Or I have an innate fear of judgment. Or maybe I’m swearing my future to secrecy in a last ditch effort to become absolutely cool and mysterious. But all I have to say is that I cannot go home and cannot stay here. 

In a transitional time like this I can’t help but think about the last transitional time in my life. When I graduated high school I had it all figured out. I mean I even knew what I wanted to major in — that’s someone who’s on top of their game. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would go to college. I knew that was the next step for me the same way it had been the next step for my brother. I didn’t even have a dream school, I just applied to a bunch of SUNY’s, got accepted into all of them and decided to go to the one that I didn’t hate the moment I stepped onto campus. 

So much of my young life was spent gearing up to go to college that once I got here I forgot that the real puzzle was figuring out what I was going to do once I got out. 

It’s like they set up a four year education to be the finish line. When I was 17, my dentist told me college was the best four years of her life. The last few months of high school were euphoric. Everything was wrapping up like the finale of a TV show or the end of a coming-of-age film. Like, I was supposed to move into Bouton Hall and that was it. The credits would roll, some indie song would play and everything else was happily ever after.  

Taylor Swift once asked “How can a person know everything at 18 and nothing at 22?” and she’s f—ing right. I wonder what I would say to high-school-senior-me if I had the chance. How would I break the news to her?

I know it’s exciting to think that everything’s still ahead of me but it’s also truly terrifying to think that everything’s still ahead of me. 

The other day I texted my grandpa the date for graduation and he said “I’m so very proud of you.” 

That definitely struck me. I’ve spent so much time planning what’s next that I forgot that graduating college in and of itself is supposed to be a huge accomplishment. I mean I spent most of it racking up debt, turning things in late and not reading anything assigned to me, but it’s still a huge accomplishment. 

And my eyes have been on the future for so long that it’s hard to reflect on the fact that I’m truly going to miss college. 

Maybe I peaked somehow. Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life nostalgic for the basement of Sojourner Truth Library, for always being two seconds away from my best friends and for willingly kissing away hours of my life to put together a school newspaper which I don’t truly hate no matter how much I complain.

Or maybe I won’t be like my dentist and my four years of college will be seen as great but the best is yet to come. I’ll be exactly where I want to be. 

I mean it’s what I’ve been pouring into all my 11:11, birthday candle and fallen eyelash wishes. 

Everything I’ve done in life so far has come to me through a mix of a little effort, sheer luck and making choices on a whim. I have too few regrets to mention. Who’s to say that the rest of my life won’t turn out the same. 

Or maybe I’ll move back home and sleep on the new futon in my mom’s attic. I’ll reacquaint myself with the life I had in high school. I’ll become best friends with my little sister again. I’ll never miss my mom’s birthday. 

But maybe still, I’ll find myself somewhere I never expected. I’ll be happier than ever. I’ll think about the past and wonder why I was so afraid for the future to come.

Or I could always fail all my classes and spend another year here. That’s always an option too.