Post-Graduation Blues with a Carolina Hue

Graduating from college is hard enough as it is. Add a global pandemic to mix and well...

They say your twenties are the most exciting period of living and for good reasons: increased autonomy, changing perspectives, personal growth, abundant opportunities, new relationships, etc. Specifically for college graduates, post-graduation during your twenties is supposed to be this marvelous transition into adulthood where you find your niche. However, there’s an absence of discussion of the profound loneliness and demanding societal development that is associated with this shift. I am a May 2021 graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I am a current member of adulthood with a serious case of the post-graduation blues.

My undergraduate years were beyond everything high school me dreamt of. The girls I moved into my freshman year dorm with were the girls I stayed with all four years of college. I no longer had to present a defensive case and undergo interrogation from my parents just to step out of the house. I formed an extremely close-knit group of friends early on so I wasn’t hopping to and from social circles every month. An eight-step plan wasn’t required to have a two-hour meet-up with others. It was a complete breath of fresh air being released from the chains I used to call home, but this didn’t last very long.

During the spring semester of my junior year, I became completely stripped of the privileges I had taken for granted for two and a half years. Whoever said, “college will be the best years of your life” clearly did not live it during a global pandemic. Those spontaneous trips with friends turned into stressful 2-4 weeks of planning just to be canceled due to a false COVID case. The liberation of walking around campus and running into people quickly digressed to Instagram DMs and Tik Tok exchanges. There was no more making friends with classes or even seeing what your peers looked like – all you were faced with every day was a grid of black screens filled with unfamiliar names. College suddenly revolved around academia with none of the social benefits. In addition to adapting to a new virtual learning environment, we were expected to engage in self-care, commit to some form of physical activity to atone for the amount of time we spent sitting in front of a screen, and maintain our social relationships. The everyday life I was promised for four years was cut in half before I could even appreciate it.

To not only be a college student but specifically a college senior during the peak of COVID-19, it was difficult to not have FOMO and be resentful towards the times we lived in. I was supposed to be cutting down my credits per semester and trade studying in for beers at our local college-town bar. I was supposed to be going to my last college sports events and cheering on our team from the stands. I was supposed to have the year of irresponsibility I had been saving up the prior three years. Instead, I found myself loading on my semesters with extracurriculars and classes with nothing better to do. There would be days at a time where I wouldn’t step outside and see the sun and weeks to months at a time where I wouldn’t see my friends. But those fleeting moments where I was able to see the sun and my friends became core memories, and I became much more grateful for the finite hangouts I used to take for granted.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

We were much luckier than the class of 2020 in that we got our graduation ceremony. We got even luckier to have had a brief lull in the number of cases to properly go out of college with a bang. While I was able to make many memories in the night to make up for the rest of the school year, it did not make the month of May any easier. Friend by friend, week by week, I had to give some of my hardest goodbyes. In the blink of an eye, my Find My Friends pins were dispersed all over the country – a sight I had been dreading for four years.

For the first time in 22 years, I was finally living alone – no parents, no roommates, and no housemates. Prior to the move, I swore up and down that I would find a single-bedroom apartment. I didn’t want to have to deal with chore distribution, dirty dishes, mismatched decorations, and living with a complete stranger. But it got lonely. I started to miss waking up to the smell of pancakes on weekend mornings, catching up in someone’s room the morning after a night out, having movie nights with popcorn and cookies, and taking spontaneous car rides to Maple View Ice Creamery. I missed walking into my living room just to see my best friends sitting on our couch.

I started to feel distant and out of touch with my friends. Scheduled FaceTime calls would be missed and texts would go unanswered for days – social media quickly became the epicenter of our communication just like it was during peak pandemic days. My fear of growing apart from my college friends started to grow, and seeing them make more friends in their new homes became frightening. I’ve been in a one-year long-distance relationship before, but having nine long-distance friendships really takes the cake.

In October, we all decided to meet back up in Chapel Hill for a friend’s reunion weekend. It had already and only been five months since we had last seen each other, but it felt like nothing about our group dynamic had changed. Once we were together, my fear quickly dissipated. I became more comfortable with the idea of living in the unknown, and I started to appreciate the exciting task of learning more and more about my friends whenever we got the chance to catch up. We were alumni visiting the town we used to call home with the people who used to be our home. Loving so many others from a distance has proven to be quite the task, but it was a tremendous milestone for us and, specifically, for me. That was when my post-graduation blues became a rich Carolina hue.

Acclimating to a life outside of academia is already a challenge, but to do so without the support system you called home within a one-mile radius of you makes it more arduous. I am still stuck in this liminal state between studenthood and adulthood, and I sometimes have days where I become lost in the monotonous hours with a longing to be back in my college town. I am extremely reminiscent of the college kids with no anxiety for the future who were most focused on being present with each other, but I am more enthralled to learn about the unknown aspects of those now adults’ lives.

To all of my homes away from home, thank you for being the sun on my darkest pandemic days and for making my Carolina hue my favorite blue.

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