It’s not something I usually like to bring up right away. I feel like there’s no way to say it without coming across as arrogant, even though it’s something that I should be (and am) proud of.
Usually it goes something like this: I’ll mention that I’m a senior and/or graduating in May. Later on in the conversation, something else will come up – maybe I’ll let it slip that I graduated from high school in 2012, or admit that I won’t turn 21 until July 2015 – and that’s just about when I can see the gears turning in the other person’s mind as they put two and two together.
“Wait,” they’ll say. “I thought you were a senior – that doesn’t make sense.” And that’s when I will finally admit, in the most humble way that something like this can be admitted, that I’m doing the impossible and graduating from college in three years.
The next word out of the other person’s mouth, 99 percent of the time, is either,”How?” or “Why?” so I’ll just go ahead and answer both.
“How?” My standard-issue answer is, “I was an overachiever in high school and took a lot of AP classes.” That’s not untrue. I am an overachiever in many aspects of my life (not just academically) and I took a total of six AP classes during my junior and senior years of high school. Due to a fortunate ability to thrive under pressure (those last five words are straight out of my cover letter), I have always been a good test taker and was able to receive college credit for all six of the AP exams I took.
“You must be really smart!” is a reaction I get a lot at this point in the conversation. I feel awkward agreeing – not because I’m not proud of my intelligence (I am), but because it implies that students who stay in college for the traditional four years are not (as) smart. Millions of bright and brilliant people stay in undergrad for four or five years, and many of them could probably outsmart me in certain subjects. Some extremely intelligent people don’t go to college at all. I am no better than any of them.
The other way I can explain “how” is thanks to smart scheduling and an amazing academic adviser. She was often able to suggest classes that would interest me while fulfilling two or more requirements at the same time.
“Why?” Most people (my age) think I’m crazy when I say that I don’t plan on sticking around for an extra year (or semester). “You could just take a bunch of BS classes and party the rest of the time!” is something that has been suggested to me more than once.
Gracias, pero no. I accept the fact that I go to a well-known party school (so well-known, in fact, that when I tell a non-Bobcat where I go to college, the first thing they say is “OOOOOH PARTY SCHOOL” as if I were unaware). But I would rather live it up in other ways (and save tens of thousands of dollars in loans down the road) rather than taking out more of said loans just to stretch out my college experience into what it’s “supposed” to be. I’ve been lucky enough to get a few scholarships, which I am eternally grateful for, but my options for this kind of aid are limited. I’ll be blunt and put it out there that there aren’t a whole lot of scholarships for caucasian, middle-class women – never mind the fact that I’m the first female on my mother’s side of the family to pursue a traditional college education.
I digress. Although I love my school with all my heart and I absolutely considered staying for the fourth year, I realized something after a while.
I will only be 20 years old when I graduate. I’ve always been one of the youngest people in my grade level thanks to my summer birthday, but now that I’m essentially skipping ahead, I will be two or even three years younger than most of my fellow graduates. I have the rest of my life to be an adult, so this is my chance to do something on a crazy, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime scale before entering the workforce full-time. Besides, I’m not too sure how most professional companies would feel about hiring a full-time employee who wouldn’t even be able to buy a drink at happy hour.
I have no idea where I’ll be after walking across the stage in May, and that’s both terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Sure, not having security or stability at the moment is scary, but (pardon the cliché) the world is truly my oyster. I’ll have the advantage of a college degree and a time period of up to a year that I can spend improving myself, both personally and professionally, in ways that might not have been possible otherwise.
The word professionally in that last sentence is key, because no matter what I end up doing, I do want to get at least some kind of practical experience that I can put on my resume. I don’t want to go off the grid and embark on a yearlong backpacking trip to go “find myself.” My goal is to find some kind of opportunity next year that will be a once in a lifetime experience while still holding me professionally accountable in some way.
As for now, I want to (try and) stop being so shy about this great accomplishment, and writing this is a step toward doing that. I’ve noticed that a lot of people try and play down their successes and attribute their amazing accomplishments to factors outside of themselves. “I only got this great job because of reasons x, y and z,” is one I hear a lot. It’s never “I got this great job!”, period.
Unfortunately, a lot of people try to justify their successes in this way because they think that not doing so would make them look arrogant and/or obnoxious. I’m all for humility, but if you’ve worked hard to accomplish something incredible, there’s no reason why you should try and hide it. There’s a fine line between being proud of something and being obnoxious while rubbing it in everyone’s face. Learn to stay on the right side of that line and don’t worry about what other people think.
For now, I’ll raise my imaginary glass of sparkling cider and toast to all of my fellow graduating seniors. We may not know where we’re going, but we might as well make it great.