Acknowledging good-byes: a tip to graduating seniors
University Counseling Center
Graduation is near! This is usually the time of year that members of the Senior Class start to experience this reality very differently. In the areas of friendships, dating relationships and post graduation plans, there will be new pressures as this timeline marches forward. For some individuals, they cannot begin to think about the fact that graduation is a mere two months away without resenting anyone who brings it up. For those who already know their career plans and have secured positions in the work world, volunteer service and/or graduate and professional school, there is a great deal to look forward to. Some look ahead eagerly, waiting to move on, and others may be apprehensive about the transition from college to the next level. For those who do not know what they are doing, do not have a specific job offer in hand or dread leaving Notre Dame, it is a difficult time. New friendships and romantic relationships may have developed this year or relationships changed after studying abroad or meeting new people on- and off-campus. The fact that most seniors will not be returning to Notre Dame in the fall may put pressure on those involved to label, define, figure out or project into the future about what these connections mean in ways that the end of previous years did not demand.
If there was ever a time to respect individual differences, this is it. Transitions bring out both the best and worst in all of us. Some people need more time away or space from significant others to figure out how they feel and want to proceed. Some individuals want to talk about how vulnerable and uncertain they feel and worry that they will be judged and criticized. Some individuals may struggle with how to feel pride in their accomplishments when others they care about are still uncertain.
A few individuals may boast of their accomplishments without acknowledging any empathy for those who are still trying to secure their next step. In the same residence hall section or off-campus housing situation could live someone who has received many job offers or letters of acceptance to graduate or professional schools, and someone who has received none. This can stir up a multitude of feelings for both parties. Some people worry that they cannot celebrate their success without appearing insensitive to those who are waiting. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense that people would want to celebrate and share accomplishments. The individuals who have received rejections or continue to be in limbo naturally worry and have fear about what lies ahead for them. A lengthy job search process, for most individuals, is difficult and takes a toll on the individual's self-confidence.
Many times, instead of doing the hard work of talking about and inviting people to share their perspectives, people start to talk less and friendships that once meant so much start to feel strained. Individuals can also err in the other direction and feel like every minute should be spent processing the status of the relationship and what will happen next. This was not the way anyone thought that second semester of senior year was going to be. After many memories over the course of these years, surely awkwardness will not prevail. However, it does when people are afraid to take the risk to do the hard work of acknowledging each other and accepting that people may feel differently about this semester, graduation and life after graduation.
Why is it so hard to talk about these differences? We do not want to appear anxious, inadequate, uncomfortable or unsure so we do not talk. We avoid talking or we pretend that everything is OK. Most people are too smart to buy this, but they play along by not pointing out that there is discomfort. We magically believe that if we do not talk about it, it will go away and everything will be fine.
It bears repeating: If there was ever a time to respect individual differences, this is it. Take the risk to go ahead and talk about your different perspectives with your friends, and listen without judging how your own or your friends' transition to graduation "should" be. Accept that you and your friends share this common experience, but in unique ways. You are all going through many endings and beginnings, which naturally brings up feelings of loss, uncertainty, sadness, excitement, regrets, anxiety and anticipation. Even your perception of time changes as you go through a transition. Whereas you used to primarily attend to the present day-to-day realities of college life, now your awareness of time expands to include the past, the present and the future. Give yourself and your friends permission to express all that you are going through. Try not to let your discomfort with acknowledging good-byes get in the way of remaining connected. You may be going through this transition in your own unique ways, but your emotional and spiritual connection with your friends will transcend as you move on toward your journeys ahead.
The intent of this monthly series of articles is not to provide counseling but to provide information about a variety of mental health topics. To seek help with your individual concerns, please contact the University Counseling Center at 631-7336 to schedule an appointment.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Scene Stories for Monday, March 6, 2000