I went to a girls’ high school where we were taught by nuns. There was one nun who used to ask us what we wanted to do after we graduated from high school. If anyone ever said that she wanted to get married, the sister would reply, "That’s nice. What are you going to do the day after you do that?"
I think that for some people that sounded a bit harsh, but most of us got it. She wasn’t anti-marriage, but she wanted us to think about the fact that the majority of us would need jobs, education, training and would have to make more life choices than just getting married.
Well, it is that time of the year for many students. It is graduation season. Soon students will be graduating from high schools, colleges and universities. It is often a heady time. Gowns and celebrations. Pomp and circumstance. Graduates and parents are often proud of accomplishments. Rightly so, efforts are rewarded and prizes for exceptional performance are handed out.
Each year at Brandon University, more than 600 students graduate at this time of the year. Besides celebration, there is usually some anxiety and sometimes even a bit of depression. It is the problem of facing the nun’s question about what are you going to do the day after you do that.
For some people, it is hitting the job market which, depending on your educational background, may mean moving to a new city. For other people, it will mean further education, which usually involves a move as well. In either case, it is new and hopefully exciting but it is competitive — competition for jobs, competition among other graduate students or medical students or law students or whatever your field of choice might be.
It can also be a bit daunting. Moving to a new city, finding a place to live, making new friends and worrying about whether you are going to be successful is stressful for many people.
I used to have a repeated dream that illustrated that I felt anxiety about my education, even though I was not consciously aware of it. I thought it was just me until I read an article on how common these dreams are among people with degrees.
In most of these dreams, you are standing outside a building where the final exams for your degree are taking place. You are late and then you realize that you can’t go in to write because you are either in your pyjamas or you are naked. In my version of this dream, someone has discovered that I didn’t write my final high school exam (it is always either math or French) and they have taken away all of my degrees and I am back in my old high school and have to do the whole thing over again. Yikes! That is a real nightmare.
When I graduated with my first degree, a number of my friends and I worked and saved and then travelled around Europe for a few months. Although I had graduated with first-class honours, when I returned I couldn’t get any job that I liked or that paid very well, so I returned to university and ended up taking three more degrees. I know that this is the last prospect that many undergraduates will want to hear right now. They have just spent 15 or 16 years getting an education and they are tired of it.
But the point is your life experience and choices can take you down many roads and part of whether those will be fulfilling depends on whether you are in the driver’s seat or the passenger’s seat on the trip that is your life.
That doesn’t mean you have complete freedom of choice because there are always variables you can’t control, like health and money. But within those limitations, many of us have choices if we are brave enough to take them. So after the parties and the celebration, it is important to figure what you are going to do the next day, although for many people, the road map will change many times.
» Deborah C. Poff, PhD, is president and vice-chancellor of Brandon University. She is also editor of the Journal of Business Ethics, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Academic Ethics. Her column appears monthly.