For more than 15 years, my progress as a man and scholar was measured by my educational advancement. High school diploma in four years? Check! College degree in four years? Check! The day after commencement came as a shock because for the first time in my life, my progress would be measured by a different metric. I was no longer a fourth-year student at George Washington University, but a college graduate migrating back home after four years of “independence.”
In this post-graduate world there is no single path or marker for success. Everyone grapples with the transition from adolescence to adulthood in their own way. Upon receiving my degree in 2011, I jettisoned from the familiar landscape of college life into a wilderness unlike anything I have ever seen.
When I enrolled in GWU’s public policy graduate program at the ripe old age of 21, I encountered ambitious 20 and 30-year-olds with great life experiences; I envied how these experiences had given them insight into a world I was only now discovering. Like most new grads, I was often sucked back into undergraduate night life, though I was trying to advance to the next level.
For those of you who just graduated, you will find that life has just started. You will find that when the going gets tough, it’s very easy to reminisce about the ‘good ol’ days’ in undergrad. With that said, let me leave you with some notes that will guide you as you set foot on your own road to clarity.
- Hold steadfast to your passion – For many, the choice to go to college is a matter of economics. A good education leads to a good job and a level of comfort which allows one to enjoy the better things in life. Everyone is entitled to the opportunity to chase the American dream, but it’s while doing so, many forfeit opportunities for growth in the name of comfort and glamour. They take on unsatisfying jobs that leave them little time to explore their interests. I envy some of my friends who chose to take on life’s challenges while still young. A friend of mine is currently traveling through South America teaching kids. Another friend is paving his own way in the world of marketing. One of my other good friends worked on Capitol Hill for free learning everything he can about a system he wants to help change one day. While they might have to check their account balance before ordering that next drink, I am confident they have a bottomless reservoir of stories they can tell you about life since graduation. They learned early that the fun is in the journey, not the destination.
- Remain humble – Whether you were president of your student government or graduated magna cum laude, when you step into the real world, you are nobody. The experience is very, very humbling. The sooner you are humbled, the better it will be for you down the line. It’s easy to stumble and it’s even easier to come down hard on yourself after a few missteps. You might be the youngest, but you are the youngest amongst equals. I live in the nation’s capital, where everyone does something important or knows someone who does something important. In reality, only about 200 people really make major moves in the city. Once I realized that, it made it much easier to appreciate each opportunity that came my way and each person that gave me a chance. Don’t be bashful. Introduce yourself to everyone. Be around people who know much more than you; become a student again. It’s a thrilling experience. If you’re willing to laugh at yourself along the way and admit your vulnerabilities, you will soon find your comfort zone.
- Don’t to grow up too quickly – You’re not that old. It has been less than a year since you were in college. Even though this first year as a young professional is new and stressful, it doesn’t help you much to act older than you are. Take your time and enjoy this new life free of the real stress that a person in senior management faces. Trust me, if you have more fun, your work will be more fun and life after graduation will become easier to face.
Now that my mind is a little clearer, I’m better position to chase my dreams and make the best of my education. Whether it takes you one year or more to reach this mental state, the fact is that you have to be open to learning if you want to survive. Class of 2012, enjoy the rest of your summer because life has already started. You’re more ready than you think you are. I wish you nothing but the best.
Live H.O.P.E. Give H.O.P.E.
Sam P. K. Collins
About the Author
Sam P. K. Collins is a public – policy journalist from Washington D.C. He
is a product of the D.C. Public School system and The George Washington
University (B.A. 2011). Past places of employment include NPR, NBC, and
McClatchy Newspapers. Sam is also a regular guest on The Richard Fowler
Show. For Sam’s take on all things D.C., local and national, check out www.alleyesondc.com.