I just turned in my application to graduate. This is a thing Oberlin needs from all seniors--they ask us to go through our transcripts and make sure we've met all the requirements to graduate: 9/9/9 requirements, cultural diversity, quantitative and writing proficiency, at least 28 credit-hours in a division outside the one your major is in, the specific requirements for your major, and, of course, at least 112 credit-hours total. If you do, you check a few boxes on this bright yellow half-sheet of cardstock, sign it, and hand it in.
Like all the rest of the seniors, I have done this. But, unlike most, I didn't check the box that says "May 2013." I'll be graduating in January.
It's not like I can't wait to get out of here--quite the reverse. I like Oberlin, I've been getting more involved with the town lately, and, if I can find a job and housing here, would like to stick around until May, hanging out with my friends and going to shows and contra dances much as I would otherwise. But in any case, after this semester, I will have met all of my graduation requirements and shall be moving on. Leaving early is practical. Consider this: the cost of a year at most liberal arts colleges was $50,000 my freshman year, and it's been going up by about $2,000 every year. (If this keeps up, my little brother's senior year will cost around $74,000.) This being the case, I imagine I am not alone in graduating early, and I'd speculate that early-graduation rates are going to increase as college costs do.
Besides, graduating early takes away Oberlin time, but gives me new-option time. It opens up new opportunities.
My parents were the ones who first came up with the idea--I had known I had a lot of credits and that I'd be finishing my major this semester, but for some reason, it had never occurred to me that I could actually graduate. At first, I was kind of thrown by the idea: graduate early? There was simply no way; credits notwithstanding, there was still too much to do. There was a body awareness class in the dance department that I really wanted to take--and I still hadn't taken any twentieth-century English classes--and I was thinking about art classes, too--and maybe another neuro class--or another psychology seminar--and the circus--Dandelion Romp--I've never been to Harkness pizza night--and all the places I've been meaning to go to study, but haven't yet remembered to actually go to--
In short, I had to deal with the traditional emotional stew of "Oh shoot, I'm a senior now and there's still so much to do" with all that needed to be done suddenly compressed into one semester instead of two. And graduation being sooner meant I'd have to decide what to do with my life after graduation sooner, which brings with it a special stress of its own.
But over the next few weeks, as I thought about it and the surprise receded, the anxiety did too. It's another example of the passive-somersaulting feeling I mentioned in a past blog--or, to use a much nerdier example, it was like David Tennant's intense-but-angstridden Tenth Doctor regenerating into Matt Smith's zany, passionately-interested-in-everything Eleventh Doctor.1 No matter how much I like it at Oberlin, I reasoned, I wouldn't stay an extra year just for the heck of it--so why stay an extra semester? Why not get started on real life, be more independent, figure out how to really live on my own? That's what Oberlin prides itself on: launching people well.
I'd been planning on taking a gap year anyway. If I did this instead, I would have a mini gap year--enough time to dabble around in the real world, hopefully do something constructive, and then head back into academia in the fall before I'd have to start repaying my loans. It made sense. I would have plenty of time to be involved in things here, to enjoy being a senior, and then I could go off adventuring. And, no matter what I ended up doing in the three and a half months between my graduation and May, I could come back and march at Commencement with everyone else. It was a good idea. I liked it. And I submitted a card that said I would graduate after winter term.
I could graduate after this semester, of course--I've done three winter term projects, which is all that's required--but there is no extra fee for staying on campus during winter term, and I would rather not add the stress of moving and packing onto the stress of finals. This way, I'll have a month to organize and get everything cleaned up. I'm not sure if you need an official winter term project to stay on campus or not, but if you do, I can probably get someone to sponsor me in a "get my life in order and be mentally and physically ready to move on to the next phase" project. If that falls through, perhaps I can get credit for something I'd do anyway (bake bread for Sci-Fi Co-Op) or something I should do every day but might need a formal project to help me with (relax and meditate every day). I'll come up with something--just as I will for life after graduation.
It's an interesting feeling, knowing that I have no idea what I'll be doing in five months but, at the same time, knowing that in four months' time I will know. Even going to college wasn't quite like this--I knew I'd be going to school somewhere, the only question was where. Now, I have no idea where I'll be or what I'll be doing. Hopefully I'll have a job, but where that will be--Oberlin, home in Washington, someplace full of Obies like New York, maybe someplace I haven't even heard of yet--is completely up in the air.