Displaced. I truly can’t think of a better word than displaced to describe the past few months but also this new life stage. It’s called college graduation. I truly can’t tell you what I expected to feel and experience, but it wasn’t this. No, this wasn’t the way I wanted to end my college career — in a global pandemic, that is. But is there really any good way to say goodbye? I hate goodbyes. They’re awkward and just make me sad; they feel forced, sometimes fake.
I’m entering a new season of life, but I don’t exactly know what that season is. I’m not a student; I don’t really feel like an adult either. I’m moving back into my childhood bedroom for the foreseeable future because the cold, hard truth is no one is hiring. At least for my skill set and career goals. So that’s just great.
Where I’m headed
The short answer is I don’t know. For almost a year now, I had planned on moving to France to teach English for a year. And understandably, these decisions have been delayed. But with such uncertainty, I’m not sure what this program will look like or if it will even happen.
My Plan B was working in communications or marketing for a travel company, which is also not doing so hot right now.
Right now, I’m working as a legal assistant at my dad’s law office, which is a huge help in these funky times. If moving to France doesn’t work out, I’ll continue searching for corporate communications or branded storytelling jobs. As for location, I’m down to move anywhere but might look to move back to Dallas. But life is a bit up in the air now. So long story short, we shall see.
Like I said, I can’t tell you where I expected to be as a graduated college senior, but it wasn’t this. Sure, goodbyes can be hard, but I’d be remiss to not reflect on, celebrate and ponder these past four years.
Because a lot happened. I think about the bubbly, both overly confident and wildly insecure freshman girl. Four. Years. Ago. I think about who I am today: medals, scars and all. I’ve tasted sweet success and bliss; I’ve also drunk the cup of pain and disappointment.
I’ve been learning that God gave us two hands for a reason. Rarely do we hold bitter without sweet, forgiveness without pain, happy without disappointed. And it’s in this vein — of celebrating the good and grieving the hard — that I’d like to reflect.
In May, I graduated from Mizzou with degrees in magazine journalism and French along with two minors. Well, what really happened is I turned in my last projects and papers, then closed my laptop and walked to the kitchen. Pomp and circumstance weren’t part of the equation, thanks to coronavirus.
I clocked hundreds of hours at the journalism school gulping down caramel lattes from the J-Cafe, staying at Lee Hills Hall until 1 a.m. to work on Vox, taking weekly news quizzes for J2100 at 8 a.m and checking out janky equipment for J2150 — I don’t miss this.
I listened to Sandy rap in Comm Law, wrote about the dog flu for my General Assignment shift at the Missourian, cried in Lee Hills an unspecified number of times and cheered when I’d get only minus 200 in Magazine Editing.
I learned every verb tense (and then became anal that everyone else in the world doesn’t use them correctly), compared fonts with fellow j-schoolers and laughed at freshmen and my freshmen self when I thought 2100 was the hardest class in all of life.
But what I’ll cherish most about the journalism school is the deep camaraderie. It’s a competitive program, it’s demanding, it’s easy to get jealous at the many successes of fellow students. But the best thing about the journalism school, which I eventually realized isn’t a given, is the instant bonds between students. I’d hear about programs at other schools where students were competitive to a point of divisiveness. And I can honestly say I never experienced that at the Missouri School of Journalism.
We’re all on the same team. And the thing about journalism is you don’t choose it because “oh I like writing” or “I wasn’t sure what to do.” It’s someone no one in his or her right mind would willingly pick on a whim. Journalism demands grit, passion and stamina. And working with people who have grit, passion and stamina is one of the best gifts. By senior year, the slackers have all left, and working on group projects is a whole new ball game.
As far as career trajectory, I don’t have a set path. I’m grateful for my classmates who encouraged me in my hobbies, especially this very blog. Round Trip truly has taken off in these past four years. (If you’re new here, I launched an online travel budgeting course with more than 2,000 students enrolled. And I made a free video series called Blogging Basics to help you start your very own blog successfully and seamlessly. And I’m very proud of this corner of the internet.)
As much as I loved my classmates and professors at the journalism school, I found some of the culture to be toxic. Being expected to constantly have your phone on, to get back to a source, to tweet the breaking news first, to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to work at a college publication, maintaining a diet of Starbucks coffee and takeout Noodles and Co., spending 30-plus hours of your life staffing a college publication that’s unpaid and only three credit hours, having no separation between work and life — it’s exhausting.
Sure, it makes you a good journalist, but at what cost? Burnout is rampant. I was fortunate to have parents who were able to support me financially throughout my college years, but I feel for my fellow classmates with part-time jobs because journalism was always expected to be first. Always. Part-time jobs, spending time with friends, visiting family, getting regular sleep, working out regularly? I’m sorry, those will need to be put on pause for the sake of truth and democracy.
In a school and even an industry that touts accessibility, I was disappointed at how little it practices what it preaches. This way of life — staying up all night, waking up early, living on coffee and fast food, working yourself to the bone — it’s not sustainable or healthy or realistic.
Yet I’m stronger for these hardships and have a better understanding of myself and health.
I think about sweet, bright-eyed Kristin going through sorority recruitment four years ago. She had literally no idea about what she was about to walk into and that it would be one of the best decisions she’d make.
No one in my immediate family had gone Greek, and my parents weren’t crazy about it. Being the Enneagram 3 that I am, I reached out to family friends in college during my senior year to ask their opinion on rushing and what it was really like. After much agonizing, I decided I want to try it out, and now I can hardly imagine my college experience without it.
I remember standing on Faurot Field in a line with hundreds of other girls waiting to tear open their bid cards. I had painted my nails pink the night before because I was sure I’d get a bid from Zeta Tau Alpha, whose philanthropy is breast cancer education and awareness. And ripping open that bid envelope, I was ecstatic to get my first choice from the very first day of recruitment.
I’ll be real here: my sorority experience is not without blemish. Girls can be petty, I didn’t always feel like I fit in, the lack of accessibility due to ridiculously high dues irritates me to no end. I hate much of the recruitment process, and yes, girls do slip through the cracks.
But at the end of the day, my experience in Zeta has shaped me in some incredible ways. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to interact with people with whom I had nothing in common except three letters on a semi-formal t-shirt. Like most women, I thought about dropping more than once. Was it worth the money? Aren’t these rituals and points requirements kinda dumb? These girls are just mean. What is the point? Chapter is so long.
But I am beyond grateful that I stayed for all four years, especially because the final year has been the sweetest. Pettiness, cliques and other nonsense seemed to dissipate, and the 30-something women remaining bonded together like never before. I plan to foster these friendships for many years to come.
As my dad drove off, I slammed the dorm door and screamed, “No parents!” I’d just been dropped off for my freshman year at Mizzou, and I was thrilled to be on my own. The desire for independence pulsed in my veins; it always has.
Growing up ain’t easy though. I hurt people, and people hurt me. The great part about attending a university for four years is that you meet hundreds of people, but the not so great part is that conflict is inevitable. I made mistakes, I lost my temper, I was insecure.
In these four years, I cried a lot, ate a lot of Andy’s, had my heart broken more than once, got to know Jesus in incredible ways and grew as a leader. I laughed so hard I cried, had dozens of Uprise coffee dates, made the pilgrimage to Harpo’s, attended dozens of sorority socials and swiped into the Rec many times.
Despite the bumps and bruises, I am awe with what God can do with broken humans. I like to think I better understand what forgiveness means (and costs), what it means to sit in grief, what it means to walk by faith not sight and what it means to love in brokenness.
I learned that counseling is one of the best investments you can make in yourself. I learned that relying on other people to feel confident always disappoints. I learned that pain is never the end of the story and that God always redeems. I learned the value of surrounding yourself with people wiser than yourself (hey Emilee, Alex and Delora).
Thinking back to high school senior Kristin all but astounds me. She was riddled with anxiety and let it define her. But over the past four years, I’ve learned that anxiety is not who I am. It’s a part of my story, not the title.
The next chapter
As I cleaned out my townhouse this month and moved out for good, I stopped. Surveying the empty room, I broke into tears. It’s over. It really has come to an end. I couldn’t name exactly why I was crying except that I had been smacked by Hurricane Emotion.
Like I said, there’s no good way to say goodbye. I don’t know where or honestly who I expected to be. I guess I thought that I’d have more answers, that I’d actually know what I’d do with my life, that I wouldn’t be insecure anymore.
Honestly, today I have more questions, have less of an idea of where I’m headed and still feel insecure some days.
But what I do know is that these past four years were the sweetest gift. I’m grateful for who I’ve become and what I’ve learned. And at the end of the day, that’s all a girl can ask for.