dogwood blossoming

This is a note to all of the graduating seniors in our Communication and Media Studies Department. First of all, congratulations on all of your accomplishments. We are so proud of you. For several days, I have had the urge to write, because my heart goes out to you. In what is normally an exciting but anxiety-ridden time, I can only imagine the degree of uncertainty you are having to cope with. I have no real answers for you (does anyone?). Instead, I offer these suggestions in the spirit of support, guidance, and camaraderie.  

Independent study

One of my heroes, Joseph Campbell, used his time during the Great Depression (when jobs were not available) as a period of deep self-study, which set the tone for the next period of his life and his work. See: Hero With A Thousand Faces. Reading, writing and contemplation are always generative choices.

Online Courses

The next months could also be a time of learning new skills to prepare for the workforce when the crisis is over. This could be via an online course through SkillShare, Adobe, or Code Academy. Harvard, MIT and many other universities have free courses that anyone can enroll in.

Graduate School

Graduate school is a viable option right now. If this was something you were thinking of in the next few years, the time to apply might be now. Here’s a timeline from the Princeton Review for what this entails. Many universities are currently waiving the standardized entrance tests for graduate school, such as the Graduate Record Exam or GRE. This could be the time to seize the day.

Volunteer Corps

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Poland XIV), I have to tell you that this was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Yes, it is a two-year commitment, but those two years could be the most critical years for learning new things, meeting new people, and appreciating different ways of being. They were for me. Applications are still open. There are also many volunteer organizations, on a local level, including AmeriCorps.

Know your Ikigai

This could be a time for introspection. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” This worksheet can be used as a guide to help you find direction or purpose in your life. I love to use these with students. A Find-Your-Ikigai worksheet helps you to see where your passion, mission, vocation, and profession meet. 

Understanding the Nature of Mind

Many of the above suggestions deal with using your mind, but what about understanding your mind? This quiet time indoors could be a blessing in disguise, providing a time and space for meditation and contemplation, much in the same way a spiritual retreat might work (but that many of us never find the time for). Undergoing a sustained period of self-study will help you to better cope with the current situation, as well as prepare you for life when this is over. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius notes that “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This is about turning obstacles upside down. I wish I could give The Obstacle is the Way to every graduating student right now. In this book, Holiday presents a Stoic toolkit that focuses on the concepts of will, perception, and action and how these concepts can help you create opportunities in the face of adversity. Watch the short video here.

Marking the Occasion

I hope that these suggestions offer you some ideas and opportunities during this time. Graduation ceremonies are a right of passage – a way to mark an important milestone. Even if we cannot celebrate together this Spring, I hope you find a way to mark the occasion in a meaningful way.  And we will celebrate together when we can.