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Opinion: Post-graduation discussions should celebrate achievements rather than future plans

(Anna Richardson/Daily Bruin)

By Victoria Rodriguez

June 4, 2022 7:11 p.m.

Being asked about your five-year plan after graduation can be exciting and intimidating at the same time.

In one week, I will walk across the stage to receive my diploma. As I take the time to reflect on my college experience, I am bombarded with an onslaught of questions from my parents, peers and even strangers about what comes next.

“Do you have a job lined up after graduation?”

“What kind of career will you get with that degree?”

“Do you plan on going to graduate school?”

I’ve always felt the pressure to provide an answer that was both good enough and well-accepted by society.

The overwhelming discussion has led me to conceal my undecided future plans and appear as though I have everything together.

With my undergraduate degree in the study of religion, I have to fight extra hard to defend my time in college and explain how I will find success in the workforce.

I used to tell people that I was planning on using my degree to pursue museum work or be a University of California administrator when neither of those avenues truly spoke to me.

I spent so much time thinking about what would sound good to others that I forgot to actually figure out what was best for me.

When I am asked about my five-year plan, I feel like I need to fast forward through my graduation and be ready for the next thing. It takes away from the celebratory moments to simply pause and acknowledge the significant strides I have already made thus far.

Unfortunately, attending a competitive university and living in a bustling city makes me feel like I do not have the time to catch my breath and truly appreciate the accomplishment of earning my degree – a milestone that I have worked five hard years to achieve.

However, slowing down doesn’t seem like a viable option as I come to graduate. With the anxiety of the pandemic still in the air, the sense of urgency is even more prevalent. I fear that anything could be taken away, and if I miss an opportunity now, I may never be able to have that chance again.

Although these troubling emotions may be consuming my mind and those of my fellow graduates, it does not have to be.

Those of us who are graduating must learn to allow space and time to discover what truly inspires us. It may be an uncomfortable and difficult process, but it gives us the opportunity to deconstruct the stigma of always having a plan for our next steps.

We’ve been taught our entire lives that we must have a career directly after college to achieve ultimate success. However, success is impossible to measure and looks different for everyone.

Instead of following this predetermined plan, some alternatives could be volunteering and community service, traveling or even taking a gap year. It could be working an easier, low-prestige job that pays the bills without setting up for a long-term career yet. These diversions from the idealized workforce route allow us to defy societal expectations and take a much-needed break, providing us the rest we need to de-stress after earning degrees in such a tumultuous time.

Taking a moment to celebrate your achievements does not mean ignoring your current pace in life and abandoning your responsibilities. Rather, it encourages you to take note of how far you have come.

I affirm to myself that everything I have done so far has brought me to this moment, no matter how it appears to outsiders.

I may not believe myself right away, but it helps me zoom out and realize that my identity and self-worth are not defined by my next big goal – they can exist with me in that moment.

I do not have to let the expectations of others be my motivation to move forward.

Now, when people ask me about my plans for after I graduate, I happily tell them that I am taking a summer off for a well-deserved break to give myself time to see what works for me.

My future is dynamic, and so am I.

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Victoria Rodriguez
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