I often find it perplexing when it is argued graduating will mean entering the ‘real world’. After years of being hidden away in our academic ivory towers, apparently only working on our essays with no understanding of life outside, we will leave and be thrust into what normal society has to offer. Of course, the reality is far different. Students are experiencing the real world their entire time at university. Friends/Partners for life are met, experiences – the good, bad and ugly – are undertaken, and the stresses that come with being a human being are felt. This is just as real as those who quite admirably opt for vocational education or work after age 18.
It is the beginning of a new chapter of our lives, perhaps a new job, pathway or further form of education
Yet graduation clearly does symbolise a marker, the beginning and end of something. It is the beginning of a new chapter of our lives – perhaps a new job, pathway or further form of education. It is also the end of something: a life no longer spent in lecture theatres and seminar discussions (though Zoom meetings may still occur). Though I’m generally sceptical towards imagining our lives as if we were movie stars, leaving university would be the end of Act One.
Naturally, graduating this year, last year, or the year before that would be no easy feat. In 2020 and 2021, graduation ceremonies were cancelled as the UK and the world were in the grips of a deadly virus. Now, as Britain has weathered the pandemic, attention instead turns to the aftermath: high inflation, huge costs of living, and a continued insecure jobs market that has no sign of getting easier.
If you are someone taking part in further education, just think how odd being outside of formal education for perhaps the first time in 17 years will be
With that comes new challenges, not least the practical. Looking for housing can be tricky at the best of times, but the situation can feel even more acute when it’s in a new place far away. Though many students will have been trained in looking for housing when venturing for off-campus properties in Leamington Spa, Canley or Kenilworth, the situation can feel even more acute when the potential security and support offered by a university is no longer there.
Similarly, after our course concludes, we are no longer students but instead, unemployed. The search is then either for further education, a job, or perhaps both. If you are someone taking part in further education, just think how odd being outside of formal education for perhaps the first time in 17 years will be. Especially if you weren’t someone who opted for a gap year, this change can seem unusual, daunting, and perhaps frightening.
I think the most important thing is having a support network of people around you
However, I’ve no doubt there are many parts of graduating to look forward to immensely. To view life as a set of tasks simply to boost one’s career is a reductive, and ultimately unfulfilling way of living (even though I can fall into this trap). I tell myself to think of the excitement of being in a new location, and of meeting new people. Compared to the past, when individuals would often work in the same location for 40 years, there is now far greater opportunities to visit new locations and remake yourself.
Managing both the personal and professional is part of what the joy of adulthood has to offer. Yes, I realise students are technically adults since they turn 18, but where university does feel distinct is acting like a halfway house between school and really starting true work. For what it’s worth, I think the most important thing is having a support network of people around you. It need only be three or four people who you know would drop everything to help you in an emergency. I think we can all do with a dose of very good luck now, as we look towards an exciting future.