Think fast and lie

One recent graduate offers advice for confused college seniors facing the end


Katy Shrout
January 30, 1999 12:35AM (UTC)

Note to those facing a final year of college: Prepare for the
unthinkable, for it is about to occur. It happened to me, you know. In one
ruthlessly sunny May ceremony on the Quadrangle at Emory University, I
ceased being that most beloved American institution, the College Student,
and instead was transformed into a new and strangely pathetic creature.
Once winked at and given approving pats on the back, now I was astounded
to find myself regarded with cool and cynical stares as I answered: "My
plans now? Well, I'll probably work for a year and maybe grad school ... oh,
no, I'm not sure what kind of grad school yet -- but I am keeping my
options open. Maybe I'll go into sociology or playwriting or historic
preservation or Chinese or, you know, forestry ... and as for getting a
job now -- hey, with my background in existential ethics and Henrik Ibsen's
early plays, who wouldn't hire me?" Once lauded for being well-rounded and
intellectual, now I was given other labels, foreign and unpleasant.
Unprepared. Impractical. Unemployed. It could happen to you.

I know now that when facing a final semester of senior glory, you have little warning that
this will happen. This in itself is strange, for as a new college
freshman, you were inundated with advice and warnings about what the next
four years would bring. You were told to mind your belongings, make new
friends, join lots of clubs, beware of strange, unidentified drinks and get
enough sleep. For all that this advice was studiously ignored for the most part, at
least it was present, giving you some indication that your life was about
to change in some important and fundamental way. Unfortunately, equivalent advice
does not exist for college seniors -- an inexcusable oversight on someone's
part. But do not despair, for there are simple ways to prepare yourself. I
have composed a few simple guidelines for those facing the End, prepared
from my own recently graduated experience.

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  • Come up with some lies. This is an absolute essential. You are going to
    find that everyone from your hair stylist to your academic advisor to your
    smart-mouthed, cocky-in-her-freshman-status younger sister is going to
    want to know what your postgraduate plans are. I found it best to have a
    retinue of exciting scenarios. Aunt Suzanne was delighted to hear I was
    going to be attending Yale Law School; my hometown friends were impressed
    at my posh executive position at the Pixie Stick Corporation; and the man
    behind the post office counter was downright awed at my aspiration to become a
    real-life Warrior Princess. This will help you ward off having to make any
    pressing real-life choices and allow you to enjoy the time you have to
    its fullest potential.

  • Apply to exotic and competitive scholarship programs. Find a foreign
    university and try to spend a year abroad studying Egyptology, Norwegian
    or golf. You don't actually have to stand a chance of being accepted, or
    even be particularly interested in the subject matter. Worst case
    scenario: You are rejected honorably, the program being a competitive one,
    and have something else to bring up when questioned. Best case scenario:
    You are accepted in a blaze of glory, and put off any other decisions for
    another year. Whee!

  • Mock, mock, mock! It's very easy to start feeling depressed when one
    encounters senior friends who have impeccably well-laid plans: med school,
    Peace Corps, high paying corporate jobs. Don't get bummed -- put that
    well-developed collegiate wit to good use. Remember, these people are not
    true intellectuals. They're hopelessly predictable, stodgy and practical.
    They should be ruthlessly and sarcastically trimmed down to size. No
    mercy.

  • Develop some comforting breathing and meditation techniques. I myself go
    through old academic articles and pick out random phrases like:
    "Conclusively, theater has become extinct in our post-modern moment,"
    or: "The Freudians focus instead on the nomenclature of the marine
    mammal." I sit in the lotus position and, breathing deeply, repeat them
    lovingly to myself. As a graduate I have forgotten what the phrases mean,
    but the sound of all those big words brings me peace.

  • Develop expensive hobbies. Tour some wineries and develop a taste for
    good chardonnay. Buy a plane ticket for a ski trip in Aspen. Decide that
    you want the fastest Internet connection on your block. These tactics, I
    find, do wonders in later providing you with more effective motivation to
    find a job. Also, they fool you psychologically into thinking you're a
    real grown-up. (Buying lots of nice suits and getting an expensive
    professional haircut works for this, too.)

  • After you've received your diploma, reward yourself well. Never forget that you are the same
    extraordinary human being who made an A in martial arts and wrote a
    brilliant paper on "A Midsummer Night's Dream" while intoxicated at 3 in
    the morning. Set aside your parents' ominous warnings about rent checks
    and loan payments. It's time to celebrate, right? Helpful hints: I threw a
    party, rode several roller coasters and drove across the country for
    several weeks with my boyfriend.

  • Once graduated, write thank-you notes for the many graduation checks
    you will receive in order to initiate your aforementioned expensive
    hobby. (If you didn't receive any, then perhaps a few carefully worded notes will get the money flowing.) Use this opportunity to keep practicing your academic writing; this useful skill will surely come in handy throughout your life.

  • Maintain intellectual dignity at all costs. Sometime it's hard, I
    admit. You may question why you had several years of French, only to wear
    a tip apron and explain to successful bankers what "soup du jour" means.
    There will be that moment when, looking into the vacant stare of your
    supervisor, you realize that your background in Plato, Joyce or
    avant-garde theater doesn't mean anything right now. Do not panic. Take a
    deep breath, and review this list. There is a job out there for people who
    know obscure details about Renaissance-era performance spaces, you just need to stay alive long enough to be the one to find it.

This advice is neither flippant nor fabricated in any way. The first jobs you take out of college will set you on a path that you later may regret. If you are confused, reticent, unemployable and terrified, then at least have some fun with this period of inevitable chaos and try to have an adventure or two. It's not easy to graduate with an expensive degree that prepares you for nothing more than more expensive school. But others before you have faced the same conundrum and some of us are figuring it out without deciding to suddenly become different people -- responsible, income earning grown-ups. At least this is how I rationalize my situation.

The absurd details I use in this piece are in fact my life. Well, right now, anyway, although I recently did apply to the Zoological Keeper College in Lima to do some work with rain forest apes. I have already purchased some rain gear, a pair of jungle boots and a guide to Peruvian dining. I know, now you don't believe me. But wait until next year. I just might see you there.


Katy Shrout

Katy Shrout is a recent graduate of Emory University.

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