This time a year ago, I was graduating college. I woke up early to curl my hair and slip into a yellow Calvin Klein dress I had picked out months prior. My roommate Michele and I posed for photos in our house, which we shared with two other girls. I had roomed with her almost every semester during our four years at Rowan University in southern New Jersey.
My friend Erin, whom I met while studying abroad in London, drove in from Ohio to spend the weekend with me. I met up with journalism students I had worked with and/or learned with over the course of my time there and went through the same motions thousands of other graduates were going through across the nation at that same moment.
We walked. Sat down. Stood up. Listened. Laughed. Turned our tassels from right to left. Hugged our favorite teachers. Thanked our parents. Packed up. And left.
I make it sound like it was nothing, but I knew then and know now how special that day was. It’s an accomplishment for anybody to graduate college and nowadays it’s the official end to the American education system. Some people may have had enough after high school. Others go on to get another degree, masters or specialization, but most are content with being a college graduate and move onto the next stage of their lives.
The day was especially important to me because of my Dad. I’m the first college graduate from my family. I enjoyed my time at school and learned so much, but I have to admit that the best part of it all was seeing how happy and how proud he was off me as I walked up to receive my degree.
Between that, dinner, photographing for my new job that very night (I was thrilled to have a job!), karaoke at McGillin’s, my favorite bar in Philadelphia, and a night in Atlantic City, my graduation weekend was not too shabby at all.
However, the day was just a day. Just a ceremony I actually criticized in The Whit, my college newspaper. What really matters is what I learned and I sure did learn a lot, or so I thought.
The week before graduating one of my journalism teachers took a few students out to dinner at The Landmark, only the hippest bar in Glassboro, and asked us all, after four years, what we learned. Everyone went around and mentioned something good about life or knowledge or not being done with education. I said, “I learned that I know absolutely nothing.”
Maybe it was the never ending issues with no right or wrong answers discussed in my international politics classes that year or maybe it was the endless brigade of ethics lectures in my journalism classes, but I felt as though after four years, while I had a lot of fun facts to spew out at cocktail parties, I had no answers.
For a girl who spent about ten years of her life prior to that, knowing EVERYTHING, this was not an easy thing to take.
During school I felt alright with it, because there was more to be learned and more teachers with new knowledge to learn from, but as I neared the end I grew more and more scared. I wasn’t ready to leave and it wasn’t due to fear of being out of work, it was because I wasn’t finished.
I wanted more.
I wanted homework that would lead me in the right direction. I wanted teachers that would say I was onto something. I wanted papers that I would procrastinate writing, but eventually love working on. I wanted suggested readings. I even wanted finals.
But all those things were out of the question on graduation day. I had my fun. I made the most of everything offered. Now it was time to put everything I had learned to work.
And I did.
I have never felt as confident in myself as I did in the months following graduation. Why wouldn’t I? I had a job, a great job. Work for me was going to bars and clubs in Philadelphia and South Jersey and photographing celebrities and crazy drunk people. I got to know tons of people in my favorite city in the world. Hell, my job even got me into the Phillies club house where I interviewed Jamie Moyer and joked around with J’Roll.
I had the greatest job. Sure I still lived with my dad, but anyone whose every met my dad knows that’s not a bad thing. I have the most incredible friends in the world. And my dating life at home was also lovely.
I lived life and stopped thinking about the questions I still had on graduation day. Once I saved up enough money I followed my dreams and moved to Australia.
A little over three months later I’ve found myself in the exact same position I was in last year, without the funny looking outfit.
This trip has once again made me realize how little I know about everything. Let’s start with wildlife. To be completely honest I thought some of the things they have here were made up in children’s books. I never knew plants or even sand could come in so many colors. And I’m still getting used to the fact that on the other side of the equator.
But that’s all fun and interesting to learn about. The most troublesome thing I’ve realized is how little I know about the human race and how much more I have to figure out about myself.
Before I left for Australia I was in a really good place. I found this balance in myself that I never knew existed. I don’t think all that work was lost when I got here, but it has definitely been challenged.
It’s just the nature of travel to come in contact with an array of people, some that are good for you and some that are bad. Not that the bad are actually “bad,” just not good for a particular person. On top of that it’s a constant flow of new people, which I’m amazed hasn’t made me develop attachment issues.
I’ve been put in positions that were extremely uncomfortable and made me doubt the human beings all together, but I’ve also walked away from interactions more enlightened then I ever thought possible.
It’s hard to keep track of the tally, but I have to admit that this trip hasn’t left me humbled, but a little scared quite frankly. I’m starting to have doubts about things I used to think I really wanted or held on a pedestal.
My first long trip abroad a few years ago, made me feel small but eager. I left almost reinvigorated and thirsting for more. At this point in my current travels, I’m still excited to see more of Australia, but feeling a little lost in the world.
Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why are any of us that are running around? How can I love home so much, yet have a constant yearning to runaway all the time?
Maybe none of it’s as deep as I’m making it out to be right now. Usually I don’t make it out to be this deep either, so don’t think I’m that girl.
I’m not sure why, but recently I keep reciting in my head a conversation I had with Lakshamana, the yoga monk that lived on the retreat I volunteered at in Dungog, NSW.
It was a day or two before I left the retreat. We kept hearing about a lookout point on the mountain where the view of the sunset was breathtaking. So Lakshmana took the two other WWOOFers and I there.
Getting there was not very easy. First, we had to walk to the top of the mountain. Then walk down it through the forest on another side. We ducked under and climbed over trees. I even had to wipe a few leaches off my feet. But we made it and I thought it was all worth it cause my photos would be beautiful.
We all sat down and I got my camera ready, even though the sun was not even close to the horizon. Then Lakshmana said, “This is the perfect place to meditate.” I thought he was crazy. I didn’t just walk all that way to close my eyes. Besides he could visit this spot whenever he wanted, I only had that day. So I tried his suggestion at first, then ignored it and took some glorious photos.
We were chatting the next day, not sure how it came up or the exact conversation, but I told him I couldn’t close my eyes and meditate there. I wanted to take photos. He said he figured and that he knows that look I have-all energetic to see more. The conversation continued and I somehow started talking about expectations and accomplishments.
He responded, “Oh that’s right I forgot you’re not living your own life yet.”
It wasn’t in an offensive tone and I didn’t take it in a bad way. I wasn’t really sure how to take it at that moment to be quite honest. While I forgot about it for a little, it later crept up on me. First with a whisper and louder and louder, until today.
Climbing Castle Hill in Townsville this morning I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I repeated it stair after stair after stair to the very top.
You wouldn’t think someone who dropped everything at 23-years-old and moved thousands of miles away with no prospects would ever have doubts she wasn’t living her own life. But I do. The phrase made me start thinking about how lost I felt on graduation day, which made me realize that day was almost a whole year ago.
So where do these realizations and quotes I can’t stop thinking about leave me? I don’t know. I don’t think I ever will. Sometimes I like to think it’s good to be this lost, because people who aren’t are just too consumed with the daily motions of life. Then I think maybe they’re better off, because sometimes feeling this “humbled” hurts.
I’m not sure if this thought process or constant quest for “wisdom,” for lack of a better word, will lead me anywhere. But I do know that the alternative won’t satisfy me.
I’m not sure how else to end this endless rant than with a quote from The Razor’s Edge. It’s a classic novel that my friend Julia’s mom raves about. She finally read it this summer, which struck my interest. She brought it to me when she came to visit a month ago. I’m weird with coincidences and serendipity, so I felt as though the book found me at the right time, even if it was me who actually asked for it.
“Wouldn’t it be better to follow the beaten track and let what’s coming to you come? And then you think of a fellow who an hour before was full of life and fun and he’s lying dead; it’s all so cruel and so meaningless. It’s hard not to ask yourself what life is all about and whether there’s any sense to it or whether it’s all a tragic blunder of blind fate.”