The most dreaded question a college senior could be asked: What are you doing after graduation?
College graduation sneaks up on a person. At first it seems far away, as if it will never come, and then in the blink of an eye there are caps and gowns and diplomas everywhere. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that by this time any question, even the worst question of them all, can be easily and confidently answered. But that is, as I have learned, not always the case.
When I came into school I thought I knew what I was doing—or at least that four years would be plenty of time to figure it out. Sure, there was that semi-existential crisis I had sophomore year, where I would—nightly, I might add—search up transfer apps and wonder if I had done it all wrong. Should I have gone into business? Why had I moved across the country to go to school? I am still unsure whether it was resistance to change or rejection of my uncertainty that got me through, but I never ended up changing anything.
Here I am, exactly a month away from moving out of this city I have called home for three years, and I did what I thought I would do, for the most part. I am one semester away from getting my bachelor’s in Linguistics from the university I started at. I have enough experience on my resume that I feel confident about being able to work a decent office job. But one thing has changed: I do not want to use my degree to do what I thought I would do. I do not want to work a 9 to 5. I do not want to stay here in New York City. I want to move away and work in music.
That may sound ridiculous out of context—I have all the context and it still sounds weird, to be honest. What happened in these past seven semesters that knocked me so far off my firmly-paved path? Maybe my path was never so firmly paved at all. Looking back, this uneasiness I had experienced with my major, school, career—these were manifestations of a continuous denial of what I really wanted to do. I grew up singing, my mom tells me. When I was three, I was taking the bus with my mom and I walked confidently to the middle of the aisle and sang. I know I must have liked music a lot. I was in every choir I could be a part of all the way from elementary to high school. I sent hopeful classmates crying, racking up the solos in all the school musicals. People thought they would find me onstage somewhere ten, twenty years down the road.
But there was an immense amount of fear. It was with this fear that I watched, stuck between two worlds, my friends who were getting internships and landing post-grad jobs and my friends who were unapologetically losing themselves on the stage, making things, shining. I introduced myself as the linguistics major on track to work “maybe in publishing,” but nearly everyone I met I knew from singing and performing. College was an experience split in two: I would go to class and learn about regional dialects and the semantics of the word “or;” every Wednesday after class I would run to three-hour rehearsals and get home past 10 pm and start on my syntax homework. I liked both, but I knew that if I were asked to make the choice—not the financially responsible one or the one that made the most sense, but my actual choice—I would choose the stage and the microphone and the humid rehearsal room. I did not know what to do with this knowledge so I kept it like a secret until it became one so huge I could no longer keep it to myself. I knew that if after graduation I worked at a desk, I would be good at it. But I also knew that I could never stay there.
It takes guts to do what you really want to do. I admire and envy those friends of mine who are relentlessly pursuing what some people might call non-traditional careers. They make those so-called dream jobs real life. I also admire, though, those people around me whose visions of the future are not so clear—those people whose dreams are discouraged, even forbidden; whose dreams are unattainable because of a lack of resources; those people who know but do not know and need one more push, or a lot more pushes. My mother was a housewife for nearly half her life until she decided, well into her forties, that she wanted to teach cooking. She set up shop in our home and now she has students lined up and waiting for her to pick back up on it after her few months of hiatus. She keeps making something of herself way past the age people normally expect you to know what you are and what you will be. I believe in reinvention, new discoveries, and childhood dreams that catch up to you after a long and confusing trek down a winding path, and these are what I will pack in my bags come December.