I broke up with college. Or more accurately it broke up with me. Didn’t even give me a chance to advocate my case. Just put the split on. Don’t get me wrong I was happy when it happened. I smiled and waved and donned the ugly gown and cap, took pictures, and commemorated the moment. And then in typical fashion of any true break up, it hits you, after the split has become finalized, that you as a couple are no more.
In my 22 years on this planet as a person, I have been in school for approximately 17 of them. That’s a long relationship. I went to school and became educated. And, I was fortunate that time and money were rarely a concern. So I had a very intimate relationship with the educational system. I may have stomped my feet about having tests and I have certainly cried over numerous bad grades, but I never once considered (or rather truly) considered calling it quits. Me and school were tight, two peas in a pod.
Pretty quickly on I mastered the whole school thing. Do your homework, talk in class (at least once or twice), study hard, and you’ll do well. For 17 years it was my life, without question.
I should pause for a moment and say I’m not so pathetic that my only life was school. I did, and do in fact, have some lifelong friends, that are not a pen, paper, or a notebook. I enjoyed time off from school as much as anyone. Long summers and long winter breaks were by far my favorite time of year. As much as I loved school, I also hated it. I hated how much time it consumed, time I could be spending with friends or lounging about. I did LOVE it though, for its certainty.
If school was anything it was certainty in life. Even if everything else in the world was going to hell, I had the certainty and assurance of school. It was something to hide behind. I didn’t need to worry about the real world as much, because I wasn’t in it, I was protected by school.
It’s a looming shadow in college. The realization that you are years, then months, then weeks, then days away from being in that terrifying place called “the real world” and being forced to be “a real person.” Senior year was a constant clash of emotions. You’re ready to bid adieu to school, to start having fun, to take a night and put your feet up and watch bad TV or read a good book. You’re also terrified of being “a real person.” You’re terrified of finding a real job, of being out on your own with little to no economic assistance, of making a living on your own. You’re ready but you’re scared.
When you finally break away from school after 17 years it’s relieving and you enjoy it for about 24 hours and then all that stress you hoped would go away with graduation comes rushing back. It’s the first time when your life is entirely uncertain. You don’t have a choice to make, like where to go to school or what to study, it’s do or die. Life becomes less about taking your time and making the right choice and more about acting fast so you can succeed. You start grappling with the concept of whether to do the job you want to because you love it or to stick with the one that will make you money and ensure your employment. They’re real choices with real actions and consequences.
They always teach life skills classes in middle school and high school: how to cook, how to sew. But, I’ve found in universities these are far and few between. With the exception of a few personal finance classes, some handy parental tutorials on taxes and paying bills, the resources seemed much more limited. You’re thrown out into the world to do it yourself. School officially lets you down in this regard. Wouldn’t it be something if they offered classes that had real practical applications?
And yet, as horrible as this break-up has been and as terrifying as this whole “real world” scenario is, it’s still relieving to be broken up from school. It’s actually a bit liberating. I can plunder around and find out who I am when I’m not tied to school. I can find out what I like and don’t like when school isn’t in the way. I can be me.
(Of course a relapse is predictable. I fully expect to return in a year or two and yet again become attached to school. I suppose every good relationship needs a break or two or three).