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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A senior’s frustration

< winter break I worked at my parents’ retail store, which meant that literally every day I would be called over and introduced to beaming strangers who hadn’t seen me since I was knee-high. The conversation always included the following:

“So, what year are you in college?”

“A senior.”

“Ohhh, a senior.” [Here came a big, knowing smile.] “And what are you going to do next year?”

I trust that many of my fellow ’09 classmates understand the strange mixture of defeat and anger that almost consumed me every time it came up. It’s as if the adults were determined to keep me from forgetting for a moment that my time at Carleton is hurtling toward termination. (That’s how I refer to graduation on my more pessimistic days.) In response to the dreaded question, I felt that my honest answer – “I don’t know yet” – wasn’t acceptable on its own. It needed to be accompanied by specific examples of organizations and cities I was considering, even if I felt there wasn’t any chance of my actually ending up there. In short, feigning job leads made me feel less directionless and therefore less distressed. The endless discussions of my unclear future quickly became frustrating and exhausting, and escaping them was one of the main reasons I was ready for break to end.

My vexation began on Commencement Day last June, when I called my mom on the phone and the first thing I heard was, “Just think – less than a year from now, that will be you!” That’s not quite what I wanted to think about on a day when I couldn’t believe that some of my closest friends were already graduating. But reminders like the above have kept coming from many people besides my mother, and not just on admittedly appropriate days like commencement for the class above me. I feel like the moment I leave campus, I’m surrounded by people – nice, well-meaning people – who are determined to know about “what’s next.” At least my mom didn’t add, “And then you better have a job!”

I know I’m graduating in five months. I know I’m going to have to find a job. I know I will leave my best friends and likely find myself eating cans of beans for dinner on the floor of a frigid, unfurnished apartment. So must everyone remind me? I’m aware I should be grateful that there are many people interested in my future, and believe me, I appreciate the concern and support. But here’s my frustration: at a time when what I want most is to revel in the Carleton Bubble, the company of my friends, and my general lack of accountability, I am constantly forced to discuss what comes after that. Instead of always asking about what comes next, can we talk about what comes now? My stress level – and my sanity – would appreciate it.

Here’s a question: when did we begin to equate having a job with having a purpose in life? I’m aware that sounds pretty dramatic, but on some level it’s true. Hearing that someone has no job plans generally makes them appear unmotivated and disorganized, an aimless wanderer on a path that is supposed to be straight and fast-paced after graduation. The typical post-college route is changing, though, and it is becoming much more common to take time for things like volunteering or travel. It’s also pertinent to look at how common it has been to bounce from job to job: a recent Department of Labor study found that on average, members of our parents’ generation have held nearly 11 different jobs since the age of 18. (Get ready to be asked “the question” over, and over, and over). But shouldn’t this mean that adults understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that query? Perhaps torturing a fresh set of real world newbies with the “what’s next” question is a reward for surviving it themselves, or maybe they simply don’t remember how it feels. I don’t mean to vilify this group of inquisitive adults – after all, it includes basically everyone I know over 30 – but to gently remind them of the stress it unknowingly adds to our search for a place in an already daunting job market.

And so, for you curious adults with good intentions, all I ask of you is this: talking about next year isn’t off-limits, but please, talk to me about this year as well. I would love to tell you about my experience as a senior. I want to talk about the food I’ve learned to cook in my off-campus house, the new extracurricular activities I’ve joined, and the things I’ve discovered about myself over 10-plus terms here – but I’ve hardly gotten the chance. I think it’s safe to say that what those of us in the class of 2009 want most from this year is to enjoy it, since it has an atmosphere and opportunities we may not find anywhere else. Give us a chance to drink it in. We’ll even tell you voluntarily about what comes next as soon as we know the answer. We’re Carleton students; we’re probably working on it.

-Allie Morgan is a fourth-year

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