By Aaron Ricks
Editors Note: Aaron Ricks was Editor-in-Chief of the Binghamton Review from Fall 2011 to Spring 2012. He was in charge when I first joined the Review as a contributor. He went on to serve as the SA’s Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Graduating from college was really tough for me. Over three years, Binghamton had become my home. After a year of community college in my hometown of Poughkeepsie, my family decided to pick up and move to North Carolina after 20 years in the Empire State. Bigger house and (much) nicer weather, but the new house actually contained one bedroom less than the house I grew up in, leaving me sleeping on the couch for extended periods during the summer and winter breaks.
Binghamton had become the place where I established some roots of my own, apart from my family. I had lots of friends, I was an “important” figure in student government (if there is such a thing), and I excelled in my academics. But when the month of March came rolling around the reality began to sink in and a voice whispered: “all of this was going away and your life will never be the same.” As the clock continued to count down to graduation, it was really hard not to reflect on the past and feel scared shitless about the future.
I would like to think that in my time at Binghamton I was a pretty good example of the saying “work hard, play hard.” I was way too involved in the Binghamton Review and the Student Association, and I took seriously my position as teaching assistant for a popular political science course. But I was also a regular on State Street on the weekends and spent as much time with friends as possible.
Everyone reading this knows what “senioritis” is, I had it in high school too. Senioritis during your last year in college is like that… except the stakes are infinitely higher and you know it. Unless you’re a management student that got offered a sweet Morgan Stanley position just by wearing a suit around campus, chances are you have little clue what you’ll do after graduation. Plenty of you will go on to graduate or law schools, but those hardly count. The feeling you get from thinking of graduating from college is one of absolute dread that pales in comparison to high school. You’re not moving on to a secure and fun new experience; you’re competing with the thousands of other liberal arts majors for money and your survival.
At this point, either your parents are seriously sick of bank rolling your drinking problem or you’re up to your eye balls in student loans. Whenever I call my buddy who is still a student at Binghamton about what he’s been up to, I can’t help but think that the college lifestyle is just absurd. Think about it: parties every weekend, your only goal is to get laid, you live within a 10-minute walking distance to almost all of your best friends, you’re surrounded by nothing but people your own age (God-forbid older, handicapped Sodexo workers serve you food), you are accountable to no one but yourself, failing a class contains little real consequence, and chances are you don’t do hardly any real work whatsoever (except engineers).
Admittedly, I am a bit bitter about my personal situation. I turned down an offer to attend a prestigious graduate program to pursue a dream job opportunity that ended up in rejection. After graduation in May I packed everything I own and headed from my sweet house on Binghamton’s lovely west-side to North Carolina to move back with my mom and younger siblings. It wasn’t easy to have to move back home with no tangible job prospects and no friends inside of a 500 mile radius. I did eventually find employment and after months of saving money I am happy to report I will be moving to the NYC-area soon, but I digress.
What I’m talking about is entering what most people call the “real world” after college. I prefer to call it “reality.” The “real world” sounds like a fantasy, a distant land that you only visit when you’re home from break. You can do everything possible to dodge reality but whether you like it or not, you can’t avoid the consequences of avoiding reality. And for a lack of a better phrase to describe it, it sucks sooo much compared to college.
I had been thinking of writing this for a while. I want to express some of the feelings those current seniors might have and also to give some pointers on what you students can expect after you move on from college. Graduating certainly isn’t all bad; some of you will have immediate success out of the gate. But plenty of you will move back home to live with your parents with no money and few options.
1. Your “free time” will disappear
Oh man, kiss this one goodbye. I started writing this article after I got home from work and after two hours of writing and an hour of editing I’m not even sure it was worth it. Time is the most valuable commodity you have. I was lucky enough to have days off on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Years. I have a total of five extra vacation days I can take throughout the year, two of which will be consumed by flying for Parade Day and moving into my new apartment.
You students go home for four weeks and then it’s #backtobing or “LAST FIRST DAY OF CLASSES”, not to mention the sporadic Jewish holidays thrown in. When am I going to ever going to take that backpacking trip through Europe? It’s been four months and I still haven’t found the time to start season 5 of Breaking Bad. FOUR MONTHS! Granted, I will eventually find the time but it’s much scarcer than it was in college. Gone are the days of my carefully constructed class schedules with four day weekends, or waking up at 9:30am on a Tuesday to watch Game of Thrones for three hours before my 1:00pm class. Those are the days I miss the most.
2. Sweatpants are still not acceptable
This is more of a personal rant than anything else, but it definitely applied to reality after college. Simply put: there is never any reason to wear sweatpants in public. We get it, you were “too busy” to do your laundry while you were smoking a bong in your suite bathroom and playing seven rounds of Super Smash Bros. Stop wearing them to class, it’s embarrassing and it’s indicative of the lack of respect for yourself. Do you want to know why SOM students make so much more money than we do? Look in the mirror.
3. You start making money… and it’s gone
I don’t consider myself to be a spoiled child. I’m white, ex-Mormon, male, middle class with 4 siblings and a widowed mother from “upstate” New York. I got my first job as the cashier and native English speaker at a Chinese take-out restaurant my junior year of high school and I held various student government positions that I would not have done had I not been compensated for my time spent. That being said, I was extremely fortunate to have not have to take out student loans thanks to good-old fashioned family financial planning and social security death benefits.
Making money is undoubtedly the best part of having a job after college. You can go where you please, eat what you please, and buy clothes on clothes on clothes. But eventually the bills and the student loans start kicking in along with a hefty, mandatory health insurance policy thanks to Obamacare. This may come to a surprise to many of the wealthier NYC and Long Island students, but your parents will one day stop paying for your cell phone, car insurance, rent, food money, clothes, gas, alcohol, etc. Money starts disappearing quickly and you need to start managing it better, and do it fast.
4. Prepare to never see your friends
For some people, this is an especially tough proposition. I have no doubt that many of the friendships I made in college will last me a lifetime. On the other hand, you need to be acutely aware that there are some friends that you will never see again for the rest of your life.
Now, I don’t want to sound all doom-and-gloom, but that’s the reality. The weekend before graduation last year, my friends and I sat on my apartment porch and discussed hanging out in our late 30s, bringing our kids to play with each other, and smoking weed together (because it will be legal by then). This sounds like a dream, but I am going to assume that I am not the only one that had that conversation before graduation. You quickly learn how tough it is to keep in touch with friends when you have responsibilities for yourself. Unless you’re living or working with someone, it only gets harder and harder to stay close with some friends.
5. No one gives a shit about what you’ve done
I have always maintained that the strength of the Binghamton community lies in its community governments and the social clubs. Some schools have crazy Division-I sports programs to unite students in a common purpose, Binghamton has student groups. Being interested in politics, I joined the College Republicans and Binghamton Review. After participating in debates and being head of a well-liked (sorta) college magazine, I decided to run for campus-wide office and I won.
I negotiated and voiced concerns with University administrators on behalf of the student body. I had dozens of teenage girls cry in my office because they didn’t want their parents to know they got caught with fake IDs or half a bottle of rum. I helped students through the student conduct process and even helped more than a few of you avoid getting expelled from school. My only regret was not being able to claim responsibility for an RA or RD losing their job, despite my best efforts. I felt important because I was important, even if you didn’t know who I was.
Do you want to take a guess at how many employers give a shit about any of this? BINGO.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything in the world. Despite the seemingly useless hours and late nights I pumped into SA budget negotiations and Binghamton Review production meetings, I absolutely believe that it has had a positive effect on my life and taught me some valuable skills. But translating these experiences into meaningful employment is a much tougher challenge.
Chances are employers won’t even read your resume, I’ve submitted enough to be pretty confident of that. Employers don’t care about how many anti-fracking petitions you’ve circulated, the “leadership skills” you learned by being a lackey for ResLife, or which a-cappella clubs you sang for; you need to demonstrate how you are valuable and what type of definable skills you gained from your experiences, everything else is just window dressing. Right after you ascended to new heights of college success and actually earned the right to complain about senioritis, you are immediately thrown back to the bottom of the pile in terms of value and importance.
Now, I don’t want to scare you about graduating. It’s definitely an exhilarating time but I wanted to help you recognize some of the scary realities of moving on from college. This piece may sound depressing but I am genuinely excited about the future. And hopefully reading this will be a sobering (literally and figuratively) experience for some of you. I know it sounds like I’m just complaining about my situation or reminiscing about glory days of yesteryear, but speaking to my fellow recent grads convinces me that I’m really just speaking the truth.
Perhaps the best and easiest part of growing up is the sense of security. Get to high school, you graduate in four years. Get to college, you graduate in four years. Since you were born, there has always been a sense of a concrete upward progression. After you graduate from college, you can either be hit by a bus tomorrow or live until you’re 100. Filling in that huge gap is the sort of uncertainty placed before college graduates. You need to prepare for it and it is coming way sooner than you think.