It’s Thanksgiving and I’m sitting on an oversized white couch in my parents’ house, trying in vain to battle the tryptophan overload and get through the final 100 pages of Michel Foucault’s Discipline & Punishment. The day’s dinner guests have already headed home with their tinfoil-wrapped leftovers. My dad is playing loud music in his office with the dog. My mom and sister are in the living room watching the (terrible) movie version of the Sex & the City series. I know I should be doing something similar, but the pulse of my usual obligations is hard to ignore and so I’m here, alone with my studies, as I have often been throughout the better portion of my life.
I told myself – that is, literally noted it on my desk calendar earlier in the semester– that I would not be doing any schoolwork on this particular day. As it turns out, that was easier said than done. As many fellow students will attest, not doing homework during Thanksgiving break is nearly impossible when it falls so close to finals time. Regardless, family and friends have often teased me about the fact that I have a hard time going on vacation. “Don’t work too hard,” my Dad always says, slightly ironically.
For as far back as my memory serves, working hard at school has been my job, my religion and, done well, my joy. I might be criticized as a perfectionist occasionally, but it has been mostly curiosity that drives me to take my studies so seriously. I have consumed the gospels of one teacher after another, culling pieces here and there to add to my own changing doctrine of beliefs. I have pursued new topics, studied countless hours, failed tests, written “A” papers, laughed at the folly of some education and felt frustration in my own occasional stupidity. I have truly fought the good fight where education is concerned.
In theory, this is about to change because my graduation is less than a month away now. I’ve weathered the usual questions about my future for longer than most college seniors because I’ve been a college senior for longer than most college seniors. Having graduated from culinary school before attending USF and then taking an additional semester beyond the traditional four years to wrap things up, I am now about one-and-a-half years older than the usual undergraduate senior (23, if you must know). Occasionally, this fact makes me a bit self-conscious, but I certainly don’t regret the path I’ve chosen. Sometimes I think I would stay longer, but lately I’ve become pretty excited to see what will happen to me once I’m no longer officially a student.
Part of me quietly hopes that my matriculation will reveal some kind of epiphany – a divine revelation – to cap off my long academic struggle. But, exactly what greatness will follow? The hopeful fool in me wants to believe that all the secrets of the universe will be revealed to me the moment I throw my mortarboard up into the air, but the realist in me knows that this is likely far from the truth. Any conversation about the current economy is not likely to raise the recent graduate’s spirits. The reality is that my graduation will probably only raise more questions for me – mostly the same questions I’ve already been asked. What happens next? What will I do with myself? How, now, will I occupy my mind? How will I maintain what’s already there? How will I replace this thing that has provided about 80% of my social life and formed the constant rhythm, the backbone of my schedule?
I cannot yet fear the intellectual, emotional and social absence that awaits me once I step outside the walls of the academic world that has cradled me for so long. It’s still too early to imagine what it will feel like to be free of homework and compulsory essays; I am still working on my final papers and will be right up until I graduate. The weighty questions are therefore still temporarily easy to ignore. Obviously I will “do” something because that’s what humans (especially Americans) are good at. We can be very efficient. But what will I think about? What if not Rousseau and digital literacy and Mandarin Chinese? Thinking about the possibilities, I straddle the line between anxiety and excitement.
Perhaps it will be good to let my mind wander, or rest, as it were. It’s good to let the fields lie fallow every now and then. Hopefully the next crop of ideas will be stronger for it.