The Internal Commencement Speech

Edited by: Christine Taylor

Senior year of college is a very exciting time—it’s also pretty nerve-racking. It’s the last year we’re going to be at whichever college we’ve chosen. The last time we’re ever going to see many of the people that we’ve spent at least 4 years with. It’s a time for change and transformation, and perhaps the last step in our childhood before we set out into the world and begin our chosen career paths. Because, after all, after 4 years of college we know exactly what we want to do with our lives. At least, we’re expected to.

But here’s the thing: most of us have no clue what we’re going to do once we graduate. If we’re lucky, we have a vague idea of which direction we want to take. This is doubly true for those of us who haven’t studied concrete subjects and chose to major in philosophy or English literature, without wanting to be a professor in either field. So, when graduation rolls around, we’re left with one, major question: What the hell am I going to do with my life? We tend to panic when we ask ourselves this question, feeling like we have to know exactly what we want and who we are right now. Though here’s the big secret: You don’t have to. As scary as this may be, it’s ok not to know what you want to do with your lives yet. What’s not ok is not giving ourselves the time and space to sit with ourselves, listen to the flow of thoughts and feelings happening within us, and working to tap into our truest essence.

Recharging your batteries after graduating

In 3, 5 or 10 years, we may look back on our college days and wish we could go back. But let’s be honest, as fun as it is, college is no walk in the park. Between finals, papers, midterms, part-time jobs, presentations and yes job hunting, it’s tiring enough to be considered lethal—and that doesn’t even take the partying into account. We have so much to do, particularly in our senior year that sometimes we don’t notice just how mentally tired we are. It’s easy to keeping going at full speed until we reach graduation day and find ourselves feeling burnt out and directionless.

By graduation many of you may be feeling mentally and physically exhausted.  Odds are that the last year of college has a huge toll on you and contrary to how we may sometimes feel, we are not machines. You can’t keep working in perpetuum, for an eternity. In fact, you wouldn’t be able to do so even if you were a machine. Think of your mind as a computer: If a computer were to overheat, you’d give it a break or at the very least put a fan underneath it. So, perhaps it’s a good idea to consider that period between your graduation and when you start looking for a job as a grace period: a time for you to truly get the rest you deserve. A time for you to ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What kind of work do I want to get involved in?’

Who Am I?

We human beings may not be able to work in perpetuum, but we are perpetually changing. The experiences we accumulate day to day, month to month and year to year change and transform us. So, simply put, you are not the same person you were on your first day of college. You’ve changed, grown and transformed in ways you probably don’t even realize and because of this your wants, expectations, and desires have changed as well.

College is a hectic environment even during the best of times. And yet, while it’s one of the best places for growth and transformation, it’s not necessarily the best place for you to observe and reflect on that change. It’s a whirlwind of classes, trips, social interactions, internships, and new opportunities that have such an enormous impact on who we are and yet after graduation, we rarely give ourselves time to step back, look at ourselves and acknowledge who we’ve become. Without that awareness around who we are, what values drive us, what types of projects and activities motivate and excite us, how can we determine which direction to move towards?

If you’re lucky to have a short period of time after college, even if it’s just a long weekend, give yourself the space and time to figure this out. Give yourself the time to rest your mind and also begin asking yourself.

Who am I? What do I enjoy? What gives me joy? What am I good at? What have I learned about what I like to do and about myself? Meditation is a perfect way of exploring such questions without pressuring yourself with them. Journaling or taking notes on what you discover about yourself is also a very helpful way of expanding on your thoughts and inclinations. In doing so, not only can you discover aspects of yourself and your abilities, but you can also begin exploring how you can also begin experimenting with them to figure out what you want to do in life.

Experimentation and Discovery After Graduation

If we have a few days or even a few months off between graduation and our next program, project or job, it can be such an advantage for us. Though if we let that grace period drag on too long, we run the risk of letting it become a crutch. While it is important to take this time to both rest and discover ourselves, when we’re ready, it’s equally important to get moving again. That doesn’t mean we need to know what we want to do. It’s ok if we don’t. Though you may find that by participating and engaging in any type of project, mission or job, you’ll begin to quickly sort out what appeals to you and what doesn’t. Knowledge and self-awareness come with experience, and the best way to have that experience is to dive right into new situations, projects, and roles.

This is why it’s important to experiment. Apply for internships, chase after volunteer opportunities, interview for a variety of jobs that pertain to what you’ve studied in college, try to find opportunities that allow you to utilize your skills and interests.

Remember, you don’t have to get stuck in the first job that you get, especially if that job is more about getting your boss coffee and less about giving you an opportunity to learn and grow.

I know these first steps always seem the most stressful. With so many directions and options before us, it can feel paralyzing to consider which one to choose. The fear of making the wrong decision can feel so heavy, as if one wrong job offer will ruin the entire course of your life. Yet bear with me for a moment, let’s try something together.

Been there. Done that.

Take a moment to think about a time in your past when you felt an incredible amount of stress and anxiety. It may have been over making a decision or facing a big challenge. Take a few moments to consider what was causing you so much stress and how you felt at that point.

Now, take a step back from that situation. Look at it from a distance, from where you are in your life now. Does the same situation feel as stressful or heavy right at this moment? Perhaps you may even smile to yourself, shake your head and wonder why you were so stressed out about that situation in the first place. Whatever decision you made, however you managed that situation, here you are, reading for personal development, motivation, and pleasure.

This isn’t to say that the decisions you make aren’t important. What I mean is that it’s helpful to look at all of the options before you with the knowledge that whatever you decide won’t make or break the life you have before you. Life is transient and ever-changing. You will change jobs, shift passions, discover new talents, encounter different opportunities, and even change yourself. What will define your peace of mind, success, and happiness isn’t just about the next step you take, it’s about the attitude and awareness with which you take it.

Speed Doesn’t Equal Success

Odds are that you’re going to feel pressured to find a job at some point after graduation. You might feel a bit panicked like you’re wasting your time or running out of time. Take a deep breath whenever you feel like this. Remind yourself that neither is true. You have an abundance of time before you. So, despite the pressure you put yourself under, you don’t have to rush into the first job you find. What you want is to find the best job for you, one where you’ll be able to learn, grow and excel.

Think of it like this: Would you rather immediately accept the job where you’ll mostly be stuck doing coffee runs and mail delivery or would you rather keep looking until you find a position that’ll enable to use what you’ve learned in college and add value to the company you’ll be in? Where do you think you’ll be and feel more valued? Where do you want to take your first steps in your professional career? As scary as it may seem, taking a job in a role that seems over your head and very challenging will stretch your intellectual and talent muscles more than an easy job that you know you could do in your sleep.

Another point to consider is the external pressure and expectations that are closing in on each of us. Make a conscious effort not to be overwhelmed by your friends’ so-called early successes or your family’s expectations. This is not a sprint or a race, this is a marathon. It is a long journey with just one participant and one person to compete against—that’s you. The desires, expectations, and dreams of others shouldn’t sway your decisions and behaviors more than the desires and dreams of your own. Trust in life’s power to offer you new opportunities because as you become more and more self-aware of what motivates and drives you, you will begin to manifest more opportunities that align with those passions.

Gratitude for the Present as You Make Your Way Forward

You might be thinking: That’s all well and good, but it’s easier said than done lady. It can be difficult to remember all of this, especially if you can’t seem to be able to find the right opportunity for you. One thing that could be very helpful to you at this point is to remind yourself of all the experiences, opportunities, people, and projects you’ve had up until this point that you’re grateful for. For starters, you’re one of the privileged few in the world that were able to receive a college education: Only 6.7% of the world population has a college degree. For better or worse, you have family or friends that love and support you. You have a warm roof over your head, even if you are sharing it with someone like, say, a roommate or your parents.

These are just the basic things we have that we often take for granted. You can take this a step further and start writing down a list of everything you have to be grateful for. You can also meditate on gratitude; a practice that will keep you grounded in the present, as you make your way into the future.

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