Graduation is seen as a mark of success. After spending four years in an educational institution, aiming towards a goal (the acquisition of a degree), you attain your goal, your marks are finalized, and you walk across the stage and are handed your degree. This is undoubtedly a mark of success, but it is also for many, the beginning of their stagnation.
Those who embark on an educational journey do so with more in mind than intellectual development – they are thinking of the friendships they will form, the new and exciting experiences they will have in a new city, and they are thinking especially of freedom – the freedom to do whatsoever they wish without the watchful eye of their parents. These things combine to make the educational experience one that will not be forgotten, and one to which they will refer to for years to come. So in a sense, graduation is a success, but it is a bittersweet success. On one hand, they have completed their goal, but on the other hand, they are leaving behind their golden years. For the past four years, they have developed the self, centering on their educational self. The educational self is one that develops, or flourishes, in a post-secondary educational setting, away from parental influence. Typically this self is one of two things: 1.) a studious, organized, and highly success oriented student type, or 2.) a relaxed, uninhibited, adventure and excitement seeking party type. These two selves do not necessarily run parallel to each other, that is, there may be some overlap, indeed there must be for humans are not one-dimensional creatures. We are multi-faceted and although Susan may prefer to stay in and study on a Friday night, she may still feel inclined to go out one night and celebrate a successful exam period. That being said, individuals typically lean more to one type than the other, with some overlap. For instance, type 1 will be more studious and success oriented than type 2, but they will still drink, and party with their friends, whereas type 2 may be more inclined to drink and party, but that does not mean they will shirk their school duties altogether – they just may not put as much effort or care into their work.
This self is formed and cemented into the individuals’ complete understanding of the self; it may even contribute to their understanding of their self in relation to self-actualization. Recall that self-actualization is the fulfillment of the self’s capabilities. Achieving academic success plays a large role in self-actualization; however, at the time we graduate we are not, in fact, self-actualized. Consider a young woman who achieves a degree in environmental law, would she consider herself fully actualized, entirely fulfilled, simply by receipt of the degree? Certainly not, she would wish to find a suitable career in her field. What would happen if she was to land a law career, but it was not environmental law? Would she be just as fulfilled with this career, as she would be in an environmental position –quite probably not. We fulfill our need and thirst for knowledge through our educational journey, but we must do something with the degree once we have graduated in order to give it any weight. This is one thing many fail to do, whether this is intentional or unintentional, the effect is the similar.
The reason I say the effect is similar and not the same, is because for those who intentionally choose not to use their degree, or choose not to further advance themselves in their area of specialization, make this decision consciously. They have control over their decision, and perhaps they have changed their interests, they have discovered that they are no longer interested in the field, or are no longer suited for it. This involves introspection, and self-assessment, which in and of itself is self-development (change is a big part of development, otherwise, we would stagnate and our selves would die). Those who happen not to use their degree tend to cling to their golden years in a more neurotic way. Whether they are unable to use the degree because there are no careers available, or they simply do not meet qualifications, these roadblocks are not decided upon by them. The decision has been made for them, and they must deal with the decision or make a change. The change that needs to occur can only come from introspection; the individual must re-assess the current formulation of self, and see whether “environmental lawyer” is a significant part of their understanding of their self. Will it cause so much dissonance as to spur on a psychotic episode? If the answer is yes, then the individual must determine what changes need to be made – should they return to an educational institution for further training and education in the area of specialization? Or should they abandon the idea of ever becoming an environmental lawyer and form a new concept? For some this conception of the self may be difficult to grasp. We are led to believe that the self is cemented in us, that there can be no change when in fact the opposite is true. We are the rulers of our selves; we are in control of who we are. There are certainly environmental and biological factors contributing to our conception of the self, but in the end we are in complete control of who we choose to be.
This is where the issue arises. Those who graduate and fail to continue their educational process, or continue their career in their field of choice, begin to stagnate. They have achieved success, and their self begins to slowly deteriorate. The experiences they had while at university become an overwhelming component of who they are as individuals, which in and of itself is not a negative thing, the issues lies in the fact that this is the only contributing factor to their sense of self. Upon graduating, they carry their educational self with them wherever they go. For those who are type 2 it is more damaging, because such behaviour is far less acceptable in a professional setting (recall we mentioned there is overlap between type 1 and type 2 of the educational selves, however in large part there are more leanings to either or). They carry their memories of their golden years and rely on these events to continue to define who they are years later. That is not to say we should forget our past selves, or forget the events that happened while we were young and experiencing so many new things at once; we should however, not rely on these things to define who we are now many years after graduation.
It is understandably difficult to let go of the past, particularly in a time of over-stimulation. Our university careers are filled with novel situations and sensations occurring almost simultaneously. This can arouse a number of new feelings within us, including the sensations of success, acceptance, love, and companionship. We experience new friends and relationships we would not have otherwise. We experience a wealth of knowledge, that at times may be difficult to digest completely, and we do this all with the belief that we are completely in control of our own lives. We believe we are able to manage our selves – we play adult while we are still children. All of these sensations offer a somewhat romanticized ideal of our educational experience, even as we live it. To leave this, to leave this safe-haven of lectures, of learning to navigate a new city, and of meeting new and interesting individuals, would be foolish. At the end of our journey, we walk across a stage in front of all of our peers to demonstrate our success. But along with our success comes a sorrowful goodbye that we may not be ready for. For when we enter into our post-secondary institution we are but children, and when we leave it we are children still, just four years older. We have been coddled; we have been swaddled and protected from the harsh realities of the world. So we cling to our successes in a time where things may have been easier, and we continue to romanticize our educational journey.
So we cease to develop ourselves, because if we develop ourselves further, we will grow further and further away from this ideal lifestyle. But this is not the answer, a graduation should not mark the end – it should mark the beginning of a lifelong learning process, and through that, a lifelong development process. That is not to say that we are only able to develop our selves through education, or through higher learning centers, but we are only able to develop our selves through challenges, and through change. Instead of allowing our selves to relive the golden years in such a way as to prove to those around us, and ourselves, that we are still who we were twenty years ago, we should discover new intellectual development opportunities, and discover new artistic and creative endeavors to venture out on. The self flourishes best when it is challenged, and tested, and given the opportunity to achieve self-actualization.
This is not referring to things such as temperament or disposition, things in which we may have less control over. It is true, we may be more prone to feelings of contentedness thanks to our biological factors, or we may be more prone to alcoholism, but these are not by and large what defines our self. Similarly, our emotionality is not what makes us who we are; it is simply a small part in the larger whole.