Walking moves grads into adulthood

As thousands of students prepare to collect diplomas and join the working world next week, they face a new reality: Adulthood. When I try on my polyester gown and my parents beam proud smiles, a bit of me will fear the future.
Many students fight, kicking and screaming, against becoming adults. A few decide to attend graduate school, studying random subjects, just to hang out around campus a little longer. Some graduates plan summer-long voyages to Europe as one last soul-searching, beer-drinking binge. Others just sit quietly and wait for the world’s greatest job to arrive by Federal Express to their doorstep.
All of these actions deny that the wonderful, free-spirited college life is coming to an end with a certain uncertainty. It’s an awkward transition between two very different lifestyles. The days of turning 21 and hitting the bars on a Tuesday night don’t seem as attractive as they once did. On the other hand, it’s still uncomfortable buttoning up those stiff suits we’ll spend the rest of our lives wearing.
As our families finalize plans for celebratory barbecues and mail announcements to distant relatives, we are left wondering how this happened so quickly.
Suddenly, I realize the friend with whom I used to do shots will work for a professional sports team. The gal with whom I went grocery shopping will actually be paid to give shots to people in a hospital. My study buddy will be making $40,000 and is already picking out a new car.
People will stop asking about our majors and started asking what we do for a living. Slowly, our closets will lose the beat-up jeans, the flannel shirts and our favorite sweaters with holes in the armpits. Taking over the racks and drawers will be tailored pants, collared shirts and “business” shoes in the boring colors of black and brown.
A year ago, it was just fun to play dress-up. Next year, it will be fun to wear the old stuff.
We began wearing the boring clothes on campus because of internships and other job opportunities after class. The other undergraduates began looking younger and more unfamiliar. More than once, we wondered if some of them were visiting high school students.
It’s not just the friends and clothes that change, of course. Life is literally moving away from campus. The horrors of shopping at slick strip malls and finding a little house in the suburbs are becoming reality. We’re puzzled by friends who mention they are buying a house, despite the fact that they are single, childless and even without significant others. Classmates talk about their company’s stock and 401K plans. Hey, who cares about retirement? What happened to good ol’ Friday night plans?
Society succeeds in pushing graduates into the life of Americana: Graduate high school, go to a good college, find a major, graduate college, find a job, find a spouse, find a home and make some kids. Part of adulthood is accepting that we will live some version of this formula, despite all the times we cursed those who had done so before us.
Already, the marriage issue is popping up unexpectedly. Friends are getting engaged, picking out tuxedos and bridesmaid dresses and making career choices according to that of their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s plans. The soon-to-be-married couples lament those who will have to seek partners outside the socially-happening University.
But wait — who’s even talking about marriage? What about those late-night sessions in which we all swore we’d travel the world alone and build our own careers before making lifetime commitments?
Entering the working world means scary choices for future relationships — both romantic or nonromantic. Our relationships will not form from a common class, a campus bar we frequented or a common friend. Most likely, we’ll begin relationships across cubicle desks and happy hours downtown.
Soon, we’ll become so focused in our own jobs that we won’t be able to relate to people who have jobs in completely different areas. The scene is predictable:
“So, what do you do?”
“Oh, nothing special. I’m an engineer. I make plastic parts.”
“Oh, interesting. I do taxes.”
“Oh, neat.”
End of conversation. So much for College of Liberal Arts’ general education requirements preparing us to converse on a wide range of topics.
Of course, entering the adult world isn’t all bleak. We’ll be able to balance our checkbooks in the black and maybe pay off our credit card bills with one payment. Once the paychecks start rolling in, we won’t have to pull out our own cans of soda during movies paid for with discounted student tickets. Maybe we won’t have to call home every weekend asking for money.
Part of being an adult is accepting these lifestyle changes in our own fashion and at our own time. Perhaps it’s not so much how quickly we adopt all of these adult lifestyle choices, but what we hang onto from our campus days.
More than the memories of friends, professors and tough exams, we take with us the ideals and passions that brought us to our careers. Some of us want to change the world by becoming social workers and finding people jobs. Others will become managers of pension plans for retired employees. Still others will make plastic parts that might save someone’s life. We each get to perform our passions.
While it may seem that the working world will limit our experiences with people different from ourselves and force us to focus on our own work environment, it won’t change the University experiences that opened our minds in the first place. The people whom we met over four or five years, the ideas that we encountered for the first time and a carefree lifestyle will always remain unforgettable.
As our names are called and we make congratulatory handshakes, we’ll probably think more about these college memories than the scary world ahead. Despite the pledges we made to ourselves that we’d never become a part of the traditional, adult lifestyle with all its predictability and tedium, in another year we will wonder what we ever had to fear about it.

This was Sara Goo’s last column, as she will graduate next week. She can be reached at [email protected] Goodbye! Ski-U-Mah forever!