It’s not news that seniors have been bogged with the question, “What are you doing after graduation?”
While barely getting over the PTSD of, “Where are you going to school?” or “What’s your major?” we have come to realize that the stale inquiries about college are still a big part of our lives.
This past semester, I have heard things like, “I never want this semester to end,” or “I am so not looking forward to the real world,” and finally, “I can’t believe we’re seniors, I feel nauseous.”
Personally, I graduated a semester early, ecstatic to spend four months on the couch, leisurely browsing the internet for a career. But even after these four, glorious, yet broke, months, it’s still surreal.
It finally hit me when I was walking home from the bar a couple weeks ago. I ran into my freshman roommate and her friend when I told them that in addition to applying to jobs, I sent an application to teach English in Spain for a year.
“Oh, you want to go back?” said my previous roommate’s friend, who also studied abroad in Seville, Spain. “I mean, I didn’t find myself abroad, but I get it if you did.”
Kind of insulted by the condescending implication, I said, “What? You found yourself in State College?”
“Yeah, I did actually,” she said pompously. “I never want to leave.”
After feeling embarrassed about being pigeonholed as a privileged white girl who studied abroad on her parent’s dime, I realized it wasn’t just a home stay that molded me into who I am today, but my collection of experiences that I acquired since I walked into my shoebox dorm in Geary Hall.
All throughout high school, I wanted to go to a city school, with my eyes on Boston and Chicago. I visited both cities, researched all the schools extensively and was confident that I would best advance my journalism career in either location. Then I started dating my boyfriend senior year who went to Penn State. Even still, I vehemently deny that he is the reason I chose to be a Nittany Lion, but I can’t ignore the fact that he went here.
Against my instincts, I rushed a sorority. I was fascinated by the heightened version of high school cliques that composed Greek life and I struggled with having a boyfriend from home (“You girls don’t hook up with anyone, how do you expect boys to like us!”) but still managed to make my best friends that year.
That summer, I held an internship in the Hamptons, followed by an internship in Chicago the next summer, and a semester in Seville the year after. I loved my time at Penn State and loved blending into a student body of more than 40,000 instead of the class of less than 100 students I graduated with in high school.
But even still, coming up on my fourth year at University Park, I can’t help but feel that I am much too big for my britches. I am ready to leave State College. I am. I’m ready for bigger and better things, but I don’t want this to be confused with being ungrateful for “finding myself in State College.”
Penn State was intended to be an escape for me. An escape from the chatty moms, an escape from the predetermined reputation, a chance to reinvent myself.
Even still, it turns out Penn State is an upgraded bubble. A safe, coddling environment that let you rest on your laurels if you wanted to, but also pushed you if you decided to take advantage of the opportunities University Park provided you.
After four years, these few things I know for sure:
I will always recommend a random roommate over someone you meet on Facebook. The latter rarely works out.
I will forever miss the chicken salad at The Mix.
I will never pay as many parking tickets as I did on Penn State’s campus.
I will never forget being on Onward State’s staff during the Sandusky scandal.
I will forever be thankful for the family I made at school.
I will not take for granted the community that State College provided me while I grew into the woman I am today.
So maybe I won’t teach English in Europe next year. I definitely won’t keep 16801 as my zip code. But when fellow drivers honk at me, after seeing my Penn State decal, or when fellow Nittany Lions shout a “We Are” chant at a rival tailgate, I will feel that sense of camaraderie that I spent all that tuition on.
I may not be wishing to spend the rest of my life in State College, but I am confident that I made these past four years count.