By Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher, Clarion Herald
As seniors walk across the stage, proudly brandishing their diplomas, and parents look on beaming from their seats, many will hear from commencement speakers about change. At the end of each major educational phase, in uplifting motivational speeches, we hear of changes that occur as we move into a new juncture in our lives.
As we leave elementary school, we anticipate the changes that occur during high school. As we leave high school, we eagerly look forward to the freedom that comes with college or beginning a career. And at the end of college, we embark on a path that will, we envision, begin to define who we are as adults.
But the transition from college into the so-called “real” world is no longer what it used to be. Certainly, some will end up getting placed in jobs that align perfectly with their majors. But many will end up in jobs that, perhaps, they hadn’t imagined, simply because they need a job. And that’s OK.
What the commencement addresses often fail to recognize is that change – or transition – occurs throughout our lives.
We are constantly negotiating who we are and what we stand for with each decision we make, with each responsibility we take on.
Certainly, major life events mark those shifts in identity. Upon marriage, we’re no longer tied to our parents as we formulate our new roles as husband and wife and join a new family. And as parents, transition occurs again as we move beyond being simply a husband or wife, son or daughter, into roles as father or mother.
But there are smaller changes that occur as well, aspects that often go unnoticed but can be recognized with reflection. Currently, my husband and I are packing up our house in anticipation of a late-summer move. As we plowed through room by room, purging and packing, we realized just how many things we’d accumulated in our almost seven-year marriage. But we’ve also unearthed a number of mementos that enable a kind of reflection: who we were and where we are now.
In one of my students’ final presentations, a group emphasized the need for growing awareness surrounding mental illness. Noting a rise in mental illnesses among college students, they asserted the urgency of the problem. In a survey conducted last year, findings indicated that three out of five college students experienced overwhelming anxiety, while two out of five students suffered from severe depression.
As a professor, it’s an alarming trend that I’ve noted, as more and more students “skip” class because they’re unable to get out of the bed.
The question, I think, is whether these numbers indicate, in fact, a rise in mental illness, or whether students are more comfortable today admitting their struggles and seeking help than they were in the past.
But, if this is the outlook of many individuals throwing their caps in the air and celebrating graduation, an acknowledgment of the importance and necessity of life-long change is needed.
We idealize specific moments in life, often relegating everyday experiences and occurrences to the sidelines. Success in life – both personal and professional – is dependent upon change and our ability to adapt to those new roles. Who you are right now, at whatever stage in life, may not be who you are in the near or not so near future.
And that’s OK.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.