Christine Heller

The Graduate


Seattle Municipal Archives, busy tourist's correspondence card, ca. 1930s, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic, via Wikimedia Commons

I arrived in my hometown of Seattle with a few bags and boxes to begin life after college. After college: the words are innocuous, even fertile, but they also signal a departure from a certain world—a world that envelops its inhabitants in creamy, inked pages that waft the stink of History when you fan through them, along with a network of friends whose close grouping softens the demands of inhabiting agency. It’s a built community with an intentional focus that folds you into its structural logic. Here, I unpacked my belongings in the home of a family friend for whom I would house-sit for the next month. Faith that the world is round, that there is something beyond the horizon of one month, was my fuel.

Building a bridge into the future is the function of the architectural progress of our daily activities. We affirm today by constructing tomorrow.

Leaving college provides an uncanny view of the actual building that we do in our lives. Life up to when we move out of our parents' home is largely already constructed. As children we inhabit the Lebenswelt built by our parents and schools, the “lifeworld” that, to a child, seems to have existed forever. It is the mold that we as vessels are shaped by. In college, more world possibilities suggest themselves, but the structure and progression of school still holds us in its form.

Things accelerate. There is a brick wall, an end of the line, and I saw it approaching in bursts, at times coming quickly and at times an unimaginable prophecy. Graduation.

Classes end and I am swimming in thick sludge, arms glopping through erratically. Rhythmic breathing takes concentration. Rhythm—up to now, life sauntered to a certain beat, a daily, weekly, and yearly recurrence of studying, writing, and discussing, with interludes for relaxation. There was a steady progression, a predictable growth, an effortless continuity that carried me from one year to the next. Graduation marked the end of that symphonic movement.

Perhaps it is complete faith and saturation in a single given world, rather than a contemplation of the slew of possible worlds one can choose to inhabit, that generates the creative playfulness of young children. This saturation is what we disoriented graduates must now attempt to reconstruct. The transition period immediately following college, no matter whether you are beginning a career, continuing in graduate school, or unemployed and aimless, suggests an endless possibility of “different lives” in which one can choose to dwell. Deciding which direction requires a leap of faith. The sudden emergence from one way of living prompts us to find another way of living as quickly as possible. We would like this way of living to be the “right” one—after all, it is finally our own decision, and if we get it “wrong” we will have to hold ourselves accountable. It is an anxious and lonely choice.

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