This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.
At some point in our lives, most of us have received a copy of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” by the unfailingly eloquent Dr. Seuss. And every time this quintessential grad gift asked us to imagine the places we would go, we already knew the answer: on to the next school! But what is the significance of Dr. Seuss’ poetry when you don’t actually know what the next place will be?
Page after page, the poem preaches perseverance and ambition — two qualities that exist in the character of all Yale graduates. However, in between Seuss’ fervent exclamations urging one onward and upward over the “mountain” are occasional lines that touch upon the reality of life’s uninspired moments: “Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.”
For the past 21 years of our lives, we have known exactly what comes next: go to school, get an internship, find a job. Often all of these decisions are made well ahead of time, with even the most minute details figured out months in advance. At school we think about the next Woads, the next vacation, the next five years. There is hardly a moment where we do not know what to expect. But the more we plan ahead, the more unfathomable the idea of free time becomes. Our minds flit easily between past and future — it is the present that causes trouble.
On Monday, we will graduate from Yale, and undoubtedly some clever fellow will note in their speech that it is called a “Commencement” because it marks the beginning of a new stage of life. But for the first time in my life I do not know what that next stage will be. I frequently envision myself standing on a precipice at the Grand Canyon — though I have never actually been there — simply staring, mind blank, at the empty ravine below me. To me, this is what graduating from college feels like: unknowable, immeasurable, sublime in its vastness. Many of us are already certain of what lies ahead: Wall Street, Teach For America, fellowships, masters programs, medical school.
During senior year it can sometimes feel as though Yale is split into two: the employed and the unemployed. And whenever I come across others who, like me, have yet to formulate a post-grad plan, we high-five as if to celebrate our lack of directionality. For the discovery of even just one person who feels the same way as you gives you hope that you are not standing on the edge of this canyon alone.
It is petrifying to admit that after 17 years of schooling — all of which were designed to prepare me for this very moment — I do not feel fully equipped to enter the professional world. It is not that I am unprepared to work, but rather that I do not feel prepared to decide my place in the world. At such liminal moments, our courage of our convictions splinters and crumples. The glorious freedom that we are granted by Yale can become paralyzing in its infinite openness.
And so, for the moment, I have made up my mind not to make up my mind. I want to experience the feeling of not having a clearly paved path, but pressing forward anyway. Unpreparedness is not something often experienced at Yale, as we jump from one Bluebook to the next. In my post-Yale state, I am not comfortable letting free time remain free. Forsaking my perpetual to-do list makes me cringe. But having a period of uncertainty seems to me to be an important step in the process of growing up. And if I take one lesson from my time at Yale, it is to have the courage to do something that scares you — even if that something is nothing at all.
I’ll finish with something Seuss, himself, would say:
Put one foot before the other and “get on your way!”
Allow yourself to be unsteady.
And never worry, you are ready!
Alison Hutchison is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.