Pala: Stop asking students what they’re doing after college

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Students at the commencement of Rowan University graduation 2018. - Former Multimedia Editor/ Miguel Martinez

Commencement season is upon us, a season that ushers a new generation of students into the unforgiving world of adulthood without training wheels and convenient discounts. Amid the fourth quarter hustle and bustle for students comes the most common and daunting question for every pending graduate, the question of what they plan to do with their degree.

To be completely fair and honest, I have asked this question of many of my elders who have already gone down this path, but as I’ve stepped into their shoes I now realize how annoying it can be. I can now attest that being asked this question in every single social situation imaginable is a unique, sharp pain.

After several long semesters of extensive work and fatigue, the finish line tends to be an odd place. On one hand, a sense of relief and the longing for celebration is immense, as the end of the road feels like a breath of fresh air for many. On the contrary, senior year is often the most stressful of all, as each course holds a make-or-break status on receiving that coveted diploma.

The truth of the matter is that your last semester is a bridge to the game of life, and calls for you to apply the skills you have learned during your tenure as a student. Preparation for the next stage ought to be a personal priority, but that can make the last few bits of coursework feel like an obsolete hindrance. Each assignment, discussion question, and class period feel more and more purposeless, and time management becomes more complicated.

Finding a balance between working as a student, coursework, classes, internships, and applying for jobs (not to mention grad school) can make you feel like your hands are tied, and some of us simply don’t want to devote any more mental energy to any of it.

In my extensive experiences answering this question, I find that each case is unique, with some interactions being refreshing while most seem fleeting. About a quarter of the people who ask the question are genuinely interested and invested in what your future will look like.

For students passionate about the heights they plan to reach and the things they plan to accomplish, like myself, the people who genuinely care about the fulfillment of your potential make the question create a pleasant moment that is either assuring or progressively challenging. On the contrary, the majority of people who ask the question use it as a fraudulent frame of empathy and concern, with a lack of care for the things you are working hard for, making the experience feel like a waste of time.

For my peers who are annoyed and exhausted by the common question, be assured I am right there with you and feel the same sentiment. For the people who care about the future graduates in their life, continue to guide and listen. And please, dear small talker, please stop asking students what they’re doing with their degree, and just congratulate them. Thank you.

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