Healthy Transitions

Your health through the ages

Offering Support During a Difficult Ending

The long walk on graduation day

Spring weekend just passed and I noticed a different mood on campus since then. When the winter break approaches, there always seems to be end of the semester madness coupled with excitement over the holidays and having a few weeks off. But, it’s different in the spring. Many students are grappling with an upcoming difficult ending. For some, it may mean leaving dear friends for a few months, heading back to a previous summer job, or perhaps it’s the end of your college career. As a faculty member, I too have mixed feelings at this time of year. I blissfully imagine trying to catch up on 900 things over the summer but it’s very hard to say good-bye to students who have brought you so much joy. I remember in my fourth year at Fordham, it was the first time students I had known since their freshman year graduated. On the morning of graduation, I came very early to visit them all lined up on our beautiful walkway. I loved getting to see so many familiar faces but it was incredibly painful for me to see their tears and try to choke back my own. And I have learned that this doesn’t get any easier as the years go by. And so, I started to think more about the transition away from college life and how we might be able support our graduates.

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First and foremost, as educators, parents, and friends, patience may go a long way. Our upcoming graduates may be facing challenges in their job search and can use our advice, assistance with cover letters, practice with interviews, and maybe just reassurance that it’s going to be ok until they are settled. I emphasize that the process of getting settled as a post-graduate can take at least a few months. It can help to connect students to recent alumni from their school or personal life to share their own experiences. One of my all-time best students took about a year to find a position that encompassed his interests and will also prepare him for graduate school; today he kindly offers his guidance (and contacts) to others.

I remember last year one of my student’s dads made me laugh so hard as he joked about going fishing the day after graduation because he knew it was going to be a tough one as his daughter came back home. It is certainly normal to grieve over the loss of such a special time and our understanding and shoulder to cry on may be appreciated.

Getting ready for the real world requires a lot of work! I’ve started to try and prepare my students earlier for this time. It can feel tricky sometimes to balance encouragement with nagging, but extending guidance to graduating students early on and frequently, even just to check in, may be well-received.

Last but not least, this is also such an exciting time! Many students may feel “done” and are greatly looking forward to their next destination. And for sure, there will be lots of opportunities to come back together. I have learned that my long walk on graduation is just the start of looking forward to when we reunite.

 

Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Fordham University.

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