An Open Letter To The Class of Graduating A Year Late

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It’s the last few weeks of April.
Friends are taking graduation photos with peace signs in university gardens.
Your instagram feed is flooded with pictures of caps and gowns and “Omg, last drunken night ordering pizza #sosad #adulthood” posts.

All while you’re casually avoiding registering for the classes you have to sign up and thus sign your soul to your school mascot for ten more months of your miserable college life.

Congratulations, you’re graduating late.

Your friends will be walking down the graduate aisle, receiving their diplomas, throwing their graduation caps. And you’re sitting here, trying to avoid attacking the next person who asks, “Are you excited about graduating in a month?”

All your friends getting ready to move on with their lives and you’re left feeling like a failure, like you aren’t good enough. “Am I defective?” you might say to yourself. “What’s wrong with me?” “Why aren’t I like everyone else?”
“I suck.”

“I’m the worst.”

et cetera, et cetera until you’re barely getting out of bed because, “What’s the point? I’m not doing anything with my life. I might as well just stay here and watch Law and Order re-runs until I get kicked out of college for being too old because I was too stupid to graduate.”

Image(It’s a slippery slope).

But I’m going to tell you something, you might not have thought about amongst your “My life is over” thoughts:

Wait for it…

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Graduating late is okay.
Graduating late is not the end of the world.

It sounds outrageous, an impossible idea, I know. But it’s true. It’s okay to graduate a year late.
Really, late isn’t even the right word. The “Class of 20xx” title is a suggestion, a generalized assumption of how long it would take a general amount people in your age group to get through the rigamarole of classes and papers and homework. It isn’t law. And it is not one size fits all. It doesn’t take into account that people are different. It doesn’t take into account that some people will hit snags or have family crises. It doesn’t take into account that some people deal with situations that make doing work like “everyone else” so much harder – depression, learning disabilities, low self-esteem, anxiety, the list goes on. The schools and administrators who obsess over their students graduating in four years may put it at the utmost importance, but it’s easy for them to forget that the students going to their schools aren’t robots – they’re people. But that idea gets passed down to us, the students. Then we start to believe that we have to graduate in four years, and then we forget that we aren’t robots and we put ourselves down for not doing what we’ve been programmed to do.

But you aren’t a robot. You are an individual. You aren’t everybody else. You are you. And you do what you need to do to get where you need to get to. And your worth has to do with what you accomplish, not how long it takes you to accomplish them. Rome wasn’t built in a day but look at it now. Do you think people visit the Colosseum and say, “Sure it looks nice, but I heard they finished it in 80 AD, but they were supposed to finish it in 75 AD. Amateurs.”

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No one says that. All people say is, “Dang. Look at that Colosseum. Look at how amazing it is. They worked their Roman tails off and made this masterpiece and I’m lucky enough to see it.” And that’s what people will say when you graduate. “You worked so hard. You got this degree. I’m proud of you. You should be proud of you.” That’s all. No one will mention that it took you longer than you expected or than you were told it would take. And if anyone does, punch that person right in the face and rub your diploma in their faces. Because you earned it.

“But what about all my friends? They’re all moving on with their lives and I’m stuck here…”

It’s okay to not be on the same pace as your friends. It might feel a little lonely and it might not feel right, but it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. You aren’t defective. You’re just on a different path.

You were always meant to take a different path from your friends, weren’t you? You had different majors, you had different interests. You even had different friends. You and your friends, your peers, and other kids on campus, are not the same. You have different goals. You have different strengths, different weaknesses. You are different.

Maybe that’s the scariest thing about graduating “late”. It’s daunting because it forces you to think about the fact that you’re an individual, that sometimes, you’ll stand alone on your path to whatever goals you have set for yourself. And that seems scary. Sometimes it’s scary to be different but sometimes that’s life. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only one working towards what you happen to be working towards. And sometimes you might get discouraged. But in those situations, what’s most important isn’t what others are doing: what’s most important is keeping the focus on yourself. If you focus too much on others and their accomplishments, you start to put yourself down or maybe feel like you won’t match their accomplishments and you can’t achieve anything if you don’t believe that you can do anything. But if you focus on yourself and don’t worry about anyone else, and don’t compare yourself to others, you give yourself the opportunity to shine in your way.

Being on your own path isn’t negative. It gives you the chance to do what’s best for you and show the world just what you’re capable of in your own way. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
You fought through your depression and graduated.
You dealt with a family crisis and you graduated.
You changed your major three times until you were happy and you graduated.
You took time to find yourself, came back and you graduated.

Graduating “late” doesn’t say to the world, “I’m a failure”. It says, “I took the path that was best for me and here I am. A graduate, ready for the world.”

The American Dream 2.0 Report on the college dropout crisis, published in 2013, said 46% of American college students don’t graduate college within six years.

But you aren’t a statistic. You aren’t a percentage. You’re you. And you are no less than anyone who graduates before you, or who graduates “on time”.

So, hang in there. One more year. A few more semesters. And you’ll be okay. You’re on the right track – your track. And there’s no time limit for that.

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2013 was an interesting year…

I switched to a new major (well, side-stepped really: public relations to Communications – does that even count?), failed a class…failed two classes, spent three hours a day in a classroom staring at biology slides. I saw a pig fetus (in the bio class, I swear), failed another class BUT simultaneously got A’s in the other classes I had that semester. I had long hair, I had shorter hair. I found a boyfriend, found my favorite shoes from high school, made friends, lost friends and upgraded to ios7 (probably the worst of it all). But most importantly – I turned 21. I’m an adult!

…ish.

While I can legally purchase alcohol at the local grocery store and gamble the money I don’t spend at Safeway away, I realized that even though I knew most of the answers (because, hello, 21 year old here), I didn’t know all of them: “How do I know how much to put in a savings account?” “Do I really HAVE to dry clean this shirt…?” “What do you mean french fries aren’t dinner?”

I’m not an expert but that’s where this comes in. Here, I’ll be able to put together a manual of sorts on how to be an actual adult: a recipe box for dinners I can make that my parents would be proud of/actually want to eat, a giant thinking pad for adult situations like dealing with friends, dealing with school, dealing with money and figuring out how to order drinks at a bar without sounding like a nine-year-old trying to con candy out of their grandmother.

I have no idea how to be an adult but I like to think, with trial and error, that I’ll figure it out, if not for me, then for other adult-ish human beings.

It’ll be fun – because if we fail, we’re 21.
And we can buy booze.