So, What’s Next?

Billy Ferguson/Fourth Estate


About five seconds after the word “congratulations” leaves their lips, the question inevitably follows. “So, what are your plans after graduation?” There’s still a mouthful of celebratory cake in your mouth, relatives clamoring to get a picture of you in your cap and gown, and it’s the 20th time you’ve heard this question today. It’s as obligatory as the copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

I actually feel really lucky whenever I think about this pervasive question. “THE PLAN” has been consistent, even when unexpected roadblocks like anorexia reared their ugly heads. I can answer in my sleep that “I am going to graduate school to pursue my master’s in elementary education. After that, I hope to teach in the area.” And no matter how many times I repeat the sentence, I never tire of the sound of it, because I know with all of my heart that it is my vocation.

But that love and confidence didn’t magically appear overnight. I was gradually led along this path by the volunteer work I have done, the classes I have taken and the internship that gave me the experience to know what I want as I transition from student to teacher.  Finding what you love is a process. Figuring out how you’re going to make it there is another, even harder one. None of it is linear, and I don’t think any of it goes the way we expect it to go.

Yet we are all still asked, “What is your plan?” sometimes in the same conversational tone most people ask, “How are you doing?” without wanting more than a single-sentence reply. Some majors are met with approving nods and smiles, reassuring signs that you will find a job after the gown and cap come off. Our son, the business major. Our daughter, the future lawyer.

Then there are those other majors that bring cheeky jokes at family dinners—philosophy? English? How will you feed yourself with that? Will you read books for money?

I hate this mentality. After four years of hard work, long nights, lost sleep, heavy armfuls of books, tearful fears about our intellectual self-worth and countless hours of devotion to becoming well-rounded, critically thinking scholars, we are then put on the spot to offer up an impressive- enough “PLAN,” though it’s unlikely that any one plan is going to satisfy everyone’s expectations at once. Does our own happiness and satisfaction even come into the picture? I’m becoming less and less sure that it does. But it ought to. In fact, it ought to be the most important thing.

Graduation is coming closer and closer for many of us this spring. That familiar question will keep appearing.  For some, it could become increasingly painful to admit, “I don’t know. I don’t know what I will do, or even what I want to do or where on earth to start.”

But you know what? That’s OK. It really is. There is no universal timeline for these things. Your life and your future belong to you. Your passions, interests, skills and dreams are all your own, and the possibilities open to you are yours to decide. You are more than a single-sentence explanation of a post-graduation plan, and your life is more than this single season of uncertainty.