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Hello all! Welcome back to First Gen, a newsletter about the highs and lows of the first-generation college student experience. This newsletter marks the official return of First Gen and I’m very excited to be back.
It’s been a minute since I was in your inbox. I’m coming to you full of new ideas about the direction of the newsletter and the kind of topics I want to cover but before we look toward what’s next I want to tell you why I left.
Last we spoke, I was just settling into my post-grad life. I had recently started my first job out of college and moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn. These were all plans that had been put into motion months before my graduation but because of the pandemic and all the uncertainty that came with it, everything about this new chapter in my life was slightly off. I was doing the new job I’d been so excited to start from a makeshift workspace in the corner of my bedroom and the big move to New York just felt like a waste of time — an expensive one at that. Like so many others I felt stuck and that turned into sadness which quickly became writer’s block.
I decided in July that I needed to take a hiatus from the newsletter so that I could properly adjust to my new work and life demands. At the time I really believed that I’d get back to it in just a few weeks. Weeks pretty quickly turned into months and after a while, I just didn’t feel compelled to write. The further I got away from my graduation date, the more it felt like I’d worn out my welcome on writing about college student perspectives. I’d centered a lot of my identity (and to a certain extent my brand as a writer) around being a student. Without that, I didn’t feel like I had anything worth sharing.
At some point in the fall, I tried to journal through my thoughts and closed off the entry with this line: “Apparently the only things I’m good at are studying and writing and it turns out I can’t even do that.”
I didn’t realize it when I was in the thick of it, but what I was going through was post-college depression. It wasn’t something that I had considered would happen to me. All those years I was looking forward to finishing college, the one thing I’d been looking forward to was the satisfaction that would come at the other end of the graduation stage, but I know now that’s it’s a pretty common experience among recent graduates. There’s a mental health crisis on college campuses, and what little resources you might have while you’re a student can disappear overnight once you graduate.
As a culture, we put a lot of stock into graduations as signifiers of success. If what follows are feelings of anything but joy, it becomes all too easy for the feeling of loss to become guilt. What’s worse, all the typical dread, uncertainty, and depression were only exacerbated by the pandemic.
Once college is over it’s just…over and the fantasy of post-grad life rarely lives up to the reality. Let’s look, for example, at the subreddit for recent graduates, Life After School. It has close to 43,000 users and it seems every other post is someone new grappling with post-grad disillusionment. Whether it be about the job search or the loss of friendships, the top five posts of all time illustrate the same theme: life after school sucks.
“I feel like I’ve had this annoying, constant void in my chest that I have never been able to shake since I left college,” wrote one user in a post that eerily reflected my own internal monologue over the last year. “My whole life and identity was based on school. After that, it was like, well who the hell am I?”
If you’re a recent college graduate looking for useless advice on how to come out of your post-grad depression there are plenty of blogs and listicles you can turn to. My personal favorite is this very earnest seven-point guide that features helpful tips like “get over it,” and “go outside.” There was no one size fits all approach that helped me begin to recenter myself over the last couple of months so I won’t pretend to have a guide for any of you reading. What I can say is that I think we’re all going through it to some degree and that we’re all going to be okay.
What I had to learn during my hiatus was that moving on from that part of my life didn’t mean that the next chapter would never live up to my expectations. It took me some time to realize that while writing and studying weren’t all I was good for, they could still be part of how I saw myself. Once I got to that place, I realized I was ready to start writing this newsletter again and I knew that I wanted this to be the topic that reintroduced it. I may no longer be a student but being first-gen continues to shape my experiences in ways I feel are worth sharing and, ultimately, that was always what this newsletter was about.
Moving forward, First Gen will publish on the first Thursday of every month. You can look forward to more thoughts on things like post-grad life, student loan debt cancellation, and unpaid internships, as well as conversations with other first-generation students, graduates, and educators.
Some things to note before you go:
- As we approach the one-year anniversary of the class of 2020’s graduation, I’d like to feature the stories of my fellow first-gen grads. If that’s you or someone you know, please take a couple of minutes to fill out this questionnaire: https://forms.gle/E9d995p5guhshoax6
- If you liked this newsletter, share it with a friend and encourage them to subscribe!
Thank you for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @zipporahosei and reach me for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.