Last week, I joined some friends at a social event for young progressives. Our purpose for attending the event was more to provide a backdrop for a reunion—we had all attended the same summer program two years ago—than out of a particular desire to connect with others.
Given our detachment from the rest of the attendees, we amused ourselves with people-watching. There was the middle-aged man in the Kent State t-shirt, the young women in spaghetti straps and heels. The dozen twenty-something guys in dress shirts, khakis, and black messenger bags. On the periphery stood my two friends and me, undergraduates in a sea of yuppies.
And then it hit me: I was looking at the next ten years of my life.
The extracurricular-sponsored happy hours and room parties that define my social experience on campus will eventually evolve into happy hours (at actual bars!) and mixers not unlike the one I attended last Monday. The difference between this summer and two years from now, after I graduate from college, is that what is a game to me now, an exercise in being "grown up," will very likely be my reality during my unattached and professional twenties.
Throughout high school and college, the concept of “growing up” has fascinated me. I've prided myself having my own checking account since junior high, flying cross-country on my own, and finding my way in new cities. The more experiences I acquired, I reasoned, the easier it would be to segue into independent adulthood.
And until this summer, my forays into accepting adult responsibilities seemed entirely reversible and novel. Living on a budget and grocery shopping for myself last summer was just a way to pretend I was on my own and not, in reality, living in a Harvard dorm and subsisting off of deli meat and pre-made and individually-sized servings of Jell-O. As soon as I got home, my parents paid for my living expenses and promptly fed me.
But this summer, temporarily relocating to a different city and working in a professional environment has opened my eyes to the reality of post-graduate life, from meeting people in elevators, cobbling outfits out of sundry Express or H&M pieces I find buried in my suitcase, to marching in step with an army of white-collar workers on my way to work each day.
Because I always saw the novelty in pretending to be an adult, I’ve only now realized the fundamental change graduating from college will have on my life. There are definite advantages, I’ve found, to the “real” world: the workweek is separate from my weekend to a greater extent than my classes seem separate from my undergraduate life. On the other hand, I've been shocked how exhausting working is—to get up by 7 a.m., I need to get to bed earlier than I usually start studying during the academic year. During the workweek, I’m left with only a few hours each day to myself each evening, after eating dinner, running errands, and responding to e-mail. A friend wisely pointed out to me that only after working your first job can you understand why our parents were always so tired.
It isn't as though I haven't been enjoying myself in Washington, D.C., and even the mixers I've attended have proved fun. But it’s disorienting to realize that the life I've come to know so well—of classes, flexible scheduling, and best of all, prepared meals—will eventually be replaced with the life I'm variously experiencing this summer. At some point, I won't meet new people in the dining hall or at a Crimson party, but at a conference happy hour or young alumni event. The classes and extracurricular activities that help define my identity on campus will be replaced with an office title and whatever I can squeeze in on my weekends or after-work hours. Even my self-conception will need reworking, as I will have to decide whether to introduce myself as coming from the rural area in which I grew up or the Ivy League institution from which I will have received my education.
Until then, I'm getting an unexpected education from my first job. Some of my first lessons learned: why alumni associations thrive and why some people go to graduate school.
Brittney L. Moraski ’09, a Crimson news editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Dunster House. She doesn’t want to grow up; she’s a Toys“R”Us Kid.