Wharton Correspondent: Bitter Sweet Feelings at Graduation Time

Graduation day 2018 at the University of Pennsylvania is marked by bitter sweet feelings as I leave Wharton. Photo courtesy of Justine Murray

For months there has been a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Though I tried to pretend otherwise, it was for only so long that I could deny that the source of this apprehension was the thought of my pending graduation. 

I love structure; and for the first 22 years of my life there has been a perfect one. A clear path. Since pre-k, the end of every schooling experience signaled the beginning of another. Regardless of the jump in expectations that accompanied the transition, I never felt as though there was cause for apprehension. Graduation signals an end to this structure. 


As I head off to JPMorgan, working full-time at a bank is, of course, in itself structured. However, joining the ranks of full-time adulthood means that the structure used to predict success during my schooling experience is no longer relevant nor is it applicable. Where school provided certainty with regards to what each year and next step would entail, the “real world” provides ambiguity — a blank page without lines asking one to not only write, but determine the plot, length, and details of their future story. Hence the thousands of questions rolling around my head. How long will I be at my first job? Will I go back to school? If so, when, where, for how long? When will I see my friends again? What will the remainder of my life look like?

Determine your definition of success, define it, then chart the path to achieving it. Photo courtesy of Justine Murray.

As kids, many of us dream of success; but looking towards my future as a senior made it clear that the path to full-time success was way more complicated than the path to getting a good GPA. It is unstructured. It is daunting. It is thrilling and petrifying. Yet one day, if success is achieved, it will be exhilarating. 


My message to myself having reflected on this reality for weeks on end during my senior year is this: you determine your definition of success; so define, then chart the path to achieving it. Will I define my success by promotions at work? Getting to the point of managing director? Making a certain amount of money? Whatever I choose, I realize I must select a path that will lead to my own happiness and satisfaction. Too often we live thinking only of tomorrow while forgetting to appreciate the now. If we choose goals that take decades to achieve we then risk missing out on what could be the best years of our lives. That is why I believe we ought to choose our paths carefully. Choose the path that will make us happy. Choose the path that surrounds you with the people and things you love, while taking you towards some ultimate goal.  

I am sure this thought process is hardly unique to myself. So many seniors — though excited for the change — for the first time must consider what they want and how it is they will achieve it more rigorously than they ever have.


In summary, graduation is a pain and a joy. Painful because of the end it represents. Joyful because, though it petrifies me to leave behind, I am (for the first time ever) living outside of the system that governed the first two decades of my life. Without the confines of the structure, built to be a safety net to foster our growth, we as graduates can now push ourselves to grow, learn, love, and live, in more radical and phenomenal ways than we have previously been allowed. And not so much “allowed” by schools as many if not all encourage radical growth; but perhaps more than we have ever allowed ourselves. Sometimes we restricted ourselves, confined our ideas in college acknowledging our perceived limitations as new found adults still struggling to adjust to our new reality as “grown ups.” As graduates, for some of us — and I know certainly for me — are fully ready to embrace the title of adult and all the pressures, joys, sacrifices, and thrills that accompany the journey.

Essentially, graduation was a painful end for me, but I intend to see that it also be an extraordinary beginning.


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