In the first half of this month I passed two huge milestones: I turned 21, and I graduated from university. I expected both of these things to leave me with a sense of pride, of having achieved something, and to provide me with a chance to reflect back on all the experiences I have had thus far. Of course, the pride has come, but it has been mixed in with a lot of very strange emotions that nobody warns you about.
Happy birthday to me
My sister, dad, me and mum at my birthday party
My birthday was significant in that, as with any birthday but especially with the ‘big ones’, it gave me a chance to reflect. It has obviously come at a point in my life where everything is changing, having finished formal education for good, so some of the reflections have been even more poignant. The main thing my birthday provided was a chance to think about my friendships. At my party were the friends I currently hold close, and whom I feel sum up the past 21 years. There’s Alice, the friend who’s constantly been there since we were 6 months old – we had our own language and everything. There’s then school friends: Laura, Emily, Helena and Alex are my ‘group’ from school who I talk to and see all the time, plus Naomi, Harry and Rosie who I’ve stayed properly in touch with. Moving on, I joined a youth theatre group, which is where the next lot appeared: Jen, Alex (or ‘Sandbach’) and of course Andy, my boyfriend of more than 4 and a half years. Chuck in Andy’s best friend Matt, Londoner Sarah, and Hope, who I met only months ago, and I’ve got a pretty fab group around me.
Andy and me at my party
Laura, Helena, Emily, me and Alex
Completing university, and then graduation itself only days after my birthday, was an enormously proud moment. I have left the University of York with a 2:1 in English Literature, and I know I have worked so, so hard to get here. University is hard, and brilliant, and tough, and emotional, and it really does (cliché alert) teach you an awful lot about you as a person. I did a mini-series reflecting on university after I handed in my dissertation, so you can take a look at that HERE.
However, in with the pride, there’s a whole other mixture of emotions. All the way through our lives in education, there is a clear path, and if you work hard you will succeed and achieve highly. Work for good GCSEs, then good A Levels, to get you to a good university, where you work to complete your degree. All those years of hard work have led up to this moment… but what IS this moment? Suddenly, there’s no path. There’s no multiple choice question with just a few possible directions. It’s now completely up to you. And that’s a really scary thought. You’ve gone from having everything mapped out to having nothing at all, yet years and years of adulthood looming ahead. Where are you going to get money? Where will you live? Will you ever get that ‘dream job’? Will anyone even offer you the ‘job from hell’ to get you on that path?
On the days I get really fed up, I feel almost cheated. Teachers have always repeated that mantra of work hard and you’ll get what you deserve, but those results are no longer immediately obvious. When you’re job-hunting, or receiving rejections, or having letters ignored, it’s easy to feel completely demoralised. There are some days you just want to shout from the rooftops: Look at my degree and exam results! Look at my work experience! Look how much I want a job! But your voice can feel lost in with the thousands of others chanting exactly the same thing.
Alice, Jagoda, me, Cat and Rebecca
On more rational days, though, you realise that this time is scary, but it can also offer opportunities. You can get out there and show who you are. You can travel. You can sit in reality and consider what it is that will really drive you forward, and what it is you want to work towards. Although it doesn’t seem like it right this second, I will find a job that’s shaped for me. I’ll find a role where I can use the skills I’ve learned, and there will be employers out there who value my track record and my work ethic. We still have a lot of years to work hard and plough our own new tracks. And this is the thing we need to keep reminding ourselves. We can do it, and we will do it. Sometimes we just have to be a little more patient.
Me and my amazing parents