This is a bit of a strange time, don’t you think? The last semester of college is a sort of in- between time, purgatory between being your parents’ kid and being an independent adult with a life and a future and a loan repayment plan all your own. Right now, you spend your days on your college campus bubble, your body moving between the buildings you’ve been coming in and going out of for nearly 4 years now. You wave to your friends on the other side of the sidewalk, eat pizza for lunch, brush your teeth in the communal dorm bathroom next to an eager sophomore who is going off about “transcendental idealism” or some other topic that you’ve given up pretending to be interested in. And though your body still resides there in the familiar whirl of conversation and classes and community, it was my experience that during my last semester, my mind was very much elsewhere.
My mind asked many questions that last semester, mostly about jobs, friends, and the future.
Jobs because…Grove City College (my alma mater) loves to tout that shiny percentage about the number of graduates who are engaged in work within 9 months of receiving our diplomas. Also jobs also because while it’s nice to say that I went to college because I wanted a quality education, reality and capitalism and loan officers require I use that education as leverage towards gainful employment.
Friends because…isn’t that what college has become for us? We go to college to learn, but it’s the people that we get to learn alongside that make the memories stick, make the late night ‘Modern Civilization’ reading-summaries tolerable, make the whole business of growing up feel less lonely because it’s happening to all of us all at once.
The future because…the time of in-between will soon become the time that was. And soon the future will become the present, and a life that seemed so far off four years ago will suddenly not be an idea, but a reality.
* * *
It’s a bittersweet thing to be a college student. Bitter because these years are filled with heartbreak and long nights and disappointments in others and in yourself. Sweet because these years are also filled with laughter and long walks on muggy spring nights and triumphs of academic and athletic and creative pursuits. The bittersweetness of college becomes even more noticeable in your last semester—in that time of in-between. The classes can begin to feel impractical, your classmates and professors that you were able to be charitable with may have finally worn your patience thin. Friends make plans—for careers, for marriages, for grad school abroad—and those plans confirm what you’ve been putting off: this bubble is about to burst.
But just when it all seems to be getting to be too much—this whole almost-but-not-yet life you’re living—then you have a moment at lunch when chocolate milk comes out of your friend’s nose because you all were laughing so hard about that thing that weird kid who wears a cape to class said in your 11 am. “It burns!” your friend shouts through laughter. A fitting moment for all of us almost-graduates: laughing through the pain, laughing whenever we can because these are months to be indulgent with our laughter, our time, our unsaid apologies and our unspoken appreciation for each other, for college, for the bittersweetness of the in-between.
Maybe you’re ready to be done, move on, start anew. Maybe you’re excited for your career, your marriage, your big move. Maybe you’re terrified, wanting to stay in the familiar rhythm of that August through May life you’ve known for the last 16 years. Maybe you’re full of regrets or fear for what’s next. Maybe you feel numb. Maybe you feel all these things at once, a straddling of joy and excitement, dread and disappointment. Whatever you feel, I want to tell you that you’re not the only one. You’re not the only one who wants to get out of town as soon as possible. You’re not the only one who just wants things to stay the same. You’re not alone in wondering if you’ve wasted time. You’re not alone in your doubts—doubts about things you thought you were sure of, doubts in the decisions you’ve made, doubts about the person you are versus the person you think you’re supposed to be.
To be honest, last-semester-seniors, I’m not totally sure what the thesis of this letter really is, or why I’m writing it. I guess I’m writing it because in many ways, I still feel like you: caught in the in-between. I’d love to tell you that graduation brings a sort of clarity and calm, a confidence that you can feel in your body and your mind. In some ways, my life has brought more calm—I finally slowed down long enough to let my body and mind heal from the paces I put it through during the four, frenzied years. But last-semester-seniors, I suppose I’m writing to you because I want to tell you two things that I still want people to tell me every day in this post-grad life:
1. You are not alone
2. You have been, are, and will be taken care of.
Life out here is quite different from life in there—in college—but in many ways, a lot of things stay the same. There are still questions about jobs and friends and the future. There are moments where you feel alone even when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people. There are still moments where life can be so, so bitter, and all in the same day, so sweet that you’re leveled with appreciation for the experiences you get to have in this world. And each day out here, whether it goes to shit or rises to glory, was a day that God kept His promise.
God makes a lot of promises in the Bible, but His ultimate promise is Immanuel—God with us. God promised the nation of Israel that a Savior was coming, one that would dwell with them. He kept this promise, and because He did, we carry that promise with us each day. We carry God with us because Christ is in us. Christ dwells with us each day, whether that’s in our college dorms or in our postgrad apartment, whether that’s on days that we’re being “exemplary believers” or days when darkness envelopes us. He dwells with us when you feel Him and when you don’t. He dwells with us in our time of in-between, when our minds and bodies feel torn between this life and the next.
So in this time of in-between, I hope you will remember who is with you, who is for you, who has been and is and will be. And when it’s hard to think about what comes next, when you feel like you are alone, I invite you to remember the promises and prayers of the past, ancient words for this moment and all the ones to come.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” – Psalm 41:1-5