When Everyone is Graduating Without You

High school counselors feed us enticing stories of growing up and going to college to have the best four years of our lives before leaving with a degree that will ensure us dream jobs and nice paychecks.

But what if I told you that it doesn’t always work out like that? Because let’s be honest: life very rarely goes as planned.

This is an account of what happens when you don’t graduate in four years. You do grow up and go to college. You have a decent enough time (whether it’s the best years of your life is up for debate). The only snafu is that… it might not take four years. It might take a little more.

Those four-year graduation plans are built around the idea that you’ll have your major—maybe a minor too—and you probably took some college-level courses in high school. Those courses and advanced placement test scores take care of your generals so you can focus on that major and getting out after the nice, four-year packaged date.

What if you don’t go into college set on a major and career though? Maybe in high school you wanted to be a veterinarian or journalist for the New York Times. So you enter college, gung-ho on taking all the anatomy lab prerequisites and social commentary ethic lectures ASAP.

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The neat four-year plan doesn’t really take into consideration the students who don’t have their entire existence mapped out. These are the kids who do some dabbling—who need a little time to figure out what they want to (supposedly) do with the rest of their lives. These are the kids torn between English and media studies and mortuary science and criminal justice… all at the same time.

And what if you fail a class or two? What if the stress of college and real life combine to create a cocktail of intolerable insanity? What if your childhood daddy issues rear their head to strike again? Or a close family member dies and you realize you weren’t at all ready for them to leave so soon.

Major life and mental stresses aren’t a part of the four-year degree program. These programs are for you to get in, have “the best four years of your life,” and haul ass away. Mere inconveniences of reality aren’t supposed to be part of the picture.

If any of the above is you, then you’re me. That final semester has rolled around… but we’re not ready to go. We’re the campus ghosts, hanging around with our unfinished business.

Now we watch in shame and humiliation as our peers move on. Our best friend from third grade is now posing for Facebook with her parents and diploma. That bitch from sophomore year of high school tweets about how “#blessed” she is right before she takes her diploma to New York City.

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Your own parents might not talk to you. They don’t understand how you could have blown it like this. While everyone else moves on with their life, you sit around for another few semesters. You used to be valedictorian; you used to be brilliant; you used to have a 3.7 GPA.

What happened to that girl?

Here’s what happened: life. That girl grew up and was no longer cushioned by all the safety nets of high school. That girl didn’t fit into your neat little plan because that girl isn’t like every other college-aged kid. That girl had some heartaches and a few issues. She decided there were other things in life that she cared more about than graduating in eight semesters and living up to mommy and daddy’s expectations.

We’re the ones who maybe didn’t have it as easy as everyone else. We’re the kids who took a risk or two. We’re the individuals who stand by and know that everyone is on a different path.

You can race past us and laugh, pitying us for how lost we must be. You can run full throttle into the future with your four-year diploma and do whatever you please.

The rest of us, we don’t really give a damn. We’re a little too preoccupied with living our own lives—on our own terms, on our own paths, and staying in tune to our own needs and desires.

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We’ll see you in the future.