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Next Stop: Graduate School

CheersBarA college friend recently shared a concept with me: Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. It’s actually the name of an old Broadway musical. But I think it’s a clever proclamation for my life lately.

It’s not that it’s bad. As a young woman about to embark on the adventure that is graduate school, I know I’m lucky.

Yet it’s hard to watch the small signposts pointing me forward when sometimes I just want to curl beneath my blankets and hide. It’s hard to watch my high school friend’s family Chinese restaurant – the one where I’ve shared jokes, gossip and Sesame Chicken for more than a decade – change ownership overnight.

One day my friend is behind the counter ready to take my order. The next a woman who barely speaks English is smiling at me entreatingly. And although the newspapers dotting the shelves are familiar, and the Crab Rangoon tastes nearly the same – there’s a distinct flavor of goat cheese that wasn’t there before – I feel a little more empty inside.

Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I could go to the Windy City and encounter the break-neck pace of journalism studies at Northwestern’s Medill, or I could give one of the cradles of American history – Boston – a chance and try my hand at long-form writing. Would life in upstate New York be dull or peaceful? Where can you study creative nonfiction, magazine layout, website coding and press ethics all at once? Do I need to return to a large college town with southern charm to feel back at home? It’s a little overwhelming to have my inbox crammed with new educational suitors every few hours. I feel like I’ve got a lot of offers to go the prom but can’t decide who I want to date.

For many Millennials these days, graduate school is a way to advance their educations and marketability. It can also be a place to duck out from real-world responsibility. I have many friends who’ve never worked a day in their chosen careers – unless you count practicums.

But where else do you go but forward when the past life you once had has all but disappeared?

It’s sad to think about how many friends from middle and high school have vanished into the crush of life, never to be seen or heard from again. They move to new cities and forge new worlds for themselves. Some have the nerve to get in touch when they need something, of course. Others delete their Facebook accounts or drop you as a friend without so much as an argument to justify it. I guess they’re just cleaning house and deleting the people they don’t talk with as frequently anymore. I can’t say I feel that close to them either – unless we were in the same room or something. Then I’m certain feelings of connection and shared experience would come rushing back. If not, that’s what alcohol’s for, right?

Visiting friends around the country since college graduation has taught me one thing: the happiest ones were those whose school programs build for them a sense of community. It’ll probably be obliterated as soon as they earn their diplomas, but still, it offers someone to study with, have brunch with, and go out with on the weekends.

A sense of place and community seems fragmented in today’s world where people move on to the next best job opportunity swiftly, even if it sends them halfway around the world. One day you’ve got a buddy in the next cubicle to swap OMG emails with. The next your side of the office has been all but cleared out, leaving you amid dusty monitors, an assortment of pens that don’t write well, and the almost audible sound of “The Way We Were” playing softly in the background.

Sometimes, I want to return to the carefree days of summers spent in New York City where the concrete sucked up all the heat. I remember fun afternoons splashing around in a tiny pool with my cousin, snacking on hot dogs before driving upstate to see relatives.

It’s important to enjoy every moment. Every moment ends. The ridiculous time where the guy a few seats down from you at the concert was swaying wordlessly with his eyes closed, and you and your buddy cackled like hyenas? That’s a moment. Because one day she’ll be living 1,000 miles away from you. That imprint in time where you feasted on chocolates sitting on white mattresses in the bedding department of Macy’s catching up with former besties is a moment, too.

It’s comforting to be in a place where everybody knows your name sometimes.

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