Opinion » Column | Sept. 11
Each summer, one of my best friends from Princeton and I discuss our goals for the upcoming year. But this year in particular — our senior year — our voices were marked with more trepidation than excitement, more anxiety than enthusiasm. Senior year is remarkably different from previous years for reasons other than graduating from Princeton. Because once we cross that threshold of FitzRandolph Gate, the world awaits us, a world that is full of invisible pathways that lead us to our dreams, disappointments and any combination of the two — and that is what scares us. At Princeton, we are surrounded by friends, advisers, places of refuge for whenever we need to vent about our mental health and academic prospects. But the real world doesn’t provide this support system. Our tethers are severed, and it’s almost as if we need to gain balance all over again.
If one were to talk about the social scene at Princeton, he or she would come across many diverse opinions: There will be those who praise or detest the eating clubs, those who are hermits and those who’ve found their own alternative social options. But once I left the Orange Bubble and reconnected with a Princeton alumna from the Class of 2012 who now lives in New York, I internalized just how difficult it is to reconnect with friends whom you may have passed by every single day in Frist or the dining hall — and these friends may now live and work in the same city as you.
So many of us are perfectionists to the core. We eat and breathe our work while still clamoring to maintain active social lives. But in the midst of that, casual dining out with friends seems to demand a Herculean effort. At times, friends have to schedule weeks in advance a meal that will only last 30 minutes because one party has to spearhead a meeting on the other side of campus. I’ve been a victim of being “that friend” and watching “that friend” hastily leave almost without saying good-bye. Perhaps you have, too. Yet I realized that besides Reunions, Princeton is probably one of the few places in which the bulk of your friends will be concentrated. They might be in Holder while you’re in Bloomberg, but they are still there. I started to think that maybe I’m worried about the “real world” because all of my friends aren’t just going to be along Elm Drive but rather miles, continents and oceans apart from me.
As a freshman, I was almost ambushed with pamphlets explaining the McGraw Center, the academic advising system and the residential college system — all of which were supposed to provide me with tons of support whenever I was in need. I still feel this type of love even now that I’m an upperclasswoman in a department. But in the real world, it’s not so easy to just send an email containing a question to an eminent scholar or to make an appointment to see an adviser who can give me advice on how to apply for internships and jobs free of charge. In the real world, we have to find our own way, which might be completely different from what our four years of class schedules and endless meetings of academic advising have prepared us for. We may not get alerts of warning when we’re working a dead-end job or a job that does not fulfill us in the least bit. We are on our own to figure what works for us and what doesn’t. And yes, this may include some unexpected twists and turns along the way.
But, hey, that’s what life is about, right? It’s about adventure. In fact, why should I, or any of us for that matter, complain when we’re surrounded by privilege? At least we have our fantastic alumni system to assist us, right? Still, that doesn’t mean that this fear of flying isn’t legitimate. It’s there, and it should be addressed even if the words don’t come out right. Saying that you’re afraid of not having friends or real friends and nothing to fall back on may sound like a complaint expressed by those in elementary school rather than a 20-something-year-old, but are we that different from those several years younger than us? This new threshold that we have to cross signifies a crossing over of another kind, in which our professional and personal lives overlap. I’m excited for the future, absolutely. But I would be lying if I said that I’m not afraid of what the future holds. Yet inexplicably, this fear is not only normal but necessary. This fear underscores the fact that I recognize everything I’ve been offered at Princeton and how much I want to be able to replicate my success here in the next stage of my life. And that, I believe, is what gives me the drive to propel myself forward into the future.
Morgan Jerkins is a comparative literature major from Williamstown, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.