The Five Stages of Graduating

Progressing through university, the widely accepted and promoted mentality is “I can’t wait to finish”, “4/3/2/1 more years to go”, “Can’t wait until I’m done!” etc. There may be feelings of relief and pride that come with graduation, but there is also one slightly confusing feeling that no one warns you about: grief. I can vouch for that. Now, either I am a rare breed of nerd OR this is something others may be struggling with… the struggle is real in the real world (I’ll get my coat).

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Grieving graduation

Comedic genius and ‘successful, employed person’ Mindy Kaling has enjoyed immense success since graduating from Dartmouth College in 2001. She was the first female writer for award-winning television show The Office and went on to create, produce, and star in her own show, The Mindy Project. Ms Kaling appears to be in a starkly different position to myself and any other graduates grieving the loss of university. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Ms Kaling wrote about her own post-college anxiety in her memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, describing her post-college days as the “pathetic tale of a girl with a great education who frittered it away watching syndicated Law & Order episodes on a sofa in Brooklyn- from Dartmouth to destitute”.

So how did Mindy Kaling advance from feelings of destitution and loss to experience, acceptance, creativity, and productivity? This is where the five stages of graduating come in. With some help from the Kübler-Ross model (the five stages of grief), I have compiled a guide to keep in mind as you travel through the rollercoaster of emotions that is post-graduation.

1) Denial: As the reality of loss is difficult to face, your first instinctive reaction is to deny the reality of your situation. This is where you try to hold onto what once was and continue turning up to lectures and tutorials, feigning shock and confusion when no one else – not even your lecturer – turns up. GUYS!?

2) Anger: You eventually realise that operation ‘pretend this isn’t happening’ isn’t a) working or b) healthy, so you instead turn to feelings of anger and frustration. According to the Kübler-Ross model, psychological responses during this stage include, “Why me? It’s not fair!” and “How can this happen to me?”. Accurate.

3) Bargaining: This stage is characterised by hope that somehow, some way, we can avoid the feeling of grief associated with graduating. Here we negotiate with a higher power (the university administrators perhaps) to take you back into their comforting arms.

4) Sadness: The fourth stage comes with an existential experience (“life is pointless without uni”) and an early understanding of the certainty and finality of graduation. Things begin to lose meaning but never fear, it is natural to feel sadness and uncertainty as you make your way into the final stage.

5) Acceptance: We made it! This stage welcomes a calm, retrospective appreciation for what once was (Oh, 8am lectures, how I loved you) and a desire to move on to bigger things (DA REAL WORLD, PEOPLE).

Now that we have successfully completed our journey through the five stages of graduating, let’s look to a great source of wisdom for some reassurance as we venture into the real world.

As Ali G said in his commencement speech at Harvard (no, really, it happened):

“You is the most cleverest students… some of you is probably brilliant account, you know 1, 2, 3, 4… Others of you will be brilliant at English, have memorised the entire alphabet A-to-X and even be able to spell words like ‘hippopotamus’- incredible.

“A lot of you is probably worried about the employment… You lot will become powerful people who can change the future.

“You is all got potential… you people is the future.”

What he said.

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Accepting graduation!

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