A few months ago, all my social media pages (and I guess yours) were taken over by pictures and posts of fresh university graduates. Thousands of pictures were accompanied with tags like #wemadeit, #freshdoctorsintown, #onlyGod and so on. Those things just piss me off. Quoting the amiable Betty White (who is 94 years old at the moment), “In my days, seeing other people’s vacation pictures was considered a punishment.” Stop punishing me with your pictures. Maybe I do have some anger issues, but anyway, I digress.
I am a graduate myself, but graduation didn’t feel like such a big deal to me. Even though I was made to almost single-handedly organise the graduation ceremony for my set, while everybody else was busy picking up their suits, dresses, and shoes, I didn’t care. I didn’t buy anything new, as it wasn’t a priority. To me, graduation was simply the end of the beginning. What do I mean?
I did a year of pre-degree science and another year of Microbiology before moving out of Nigeria to study at the young age of 15. I was fresh, naive and couldn’t cook to save my life. I remembered my first meal, a rice and beans concoction that had enough oil in it enough to make three other meals. I was on top of the world, roaming up and down the campus, going for night classes even though I didn’t need to, joining NGOs, skipping church, learning to play football and getting food poisoning and typhoid fever within my first six months. It was a steep learning curve for me.
I went on to have a lot of ups and down during my time in med school. One of those downs meant I had to miss two consecutive academic sessions, which would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I eventually moved to a new school in a new city to get a fresh start. During my academic hiatus, I took up writing. I started a blog and regularly updated it. This sole decision to start writing literally changed everything for me. I started to live in the new city, rather than just existing and waiting for the day I graduate as if that will suddenly change everything. I met a girl who eventually became my wife, and everything started falling into place.
Why were those two years a blessing in disguise? I wouldn’t have taken writing serious, or learned to live, or met the wonderful woman I have in my life if I had just done my time and left like most of my colleagues did. Those two years gave me ample time to plan for the future, the future that becomes a reality after you graduate. Soon enough, writing started earning me an income, and then the income became regular. I started writing so much that my resume could compete in the labour market by the time I graduated. I also took some time to volunteer and do all sorts of jobs just to upgrade myself and update my skills. In total, I spent ten years in the university environment at three different universities in two different countries and three different cities.
Why didn’t graduation mean much to me? By the time I graduated, I had already been married for almost a year, and I was becoming a ‘man’ and caring for my family, I had also been working for almost the same amount of time while concluding my final year of school. So while many were jumping and celebrating, I was just like “Eh, can we just get this over with? I’ve got some work to do!”
As it turns out, having more than one area of speciality helps you to stand out. I got the first job for which I interviewed and had to turn down other offers in a country where people say there are no jobs. So while many were celebrating the end of university, I was already deep into the reality that lay ahead. University education does not prepare you for the reality of life. For that, you have to teach yourself.
I’m not saying I’m wiser than my peers, even though the stupidity, childishness, and ignorance of many of them baffled me a lot, and still baffles me. I’m just saying I thought ahead and planned ahead, so the transition was a lot smoother. I hear my colleagues telling their horror stories of the rude awakening they got after graduation. Can I tell you something? University, even Medical school is not the hardest stage of life as students tend to think. Look at it this way: most students are basically being paid to study, when you consider that they receive pocket money, food and so on from parents and guardians. Then, every year, you get at least two months of holiday.
Compare that to life as a full-time worker. You pay for your own food, accommodation, medical care, clothing among many other expenses. On top of that, some family members, relatives, friends and people you don’t even know are constantly asking you for financial aid. You might even be combining your job with another degree. You only get two weeks of holiday in a year if you’re lucky and there’s no room for complaints. That’s the life of an adult. Now, look at both sides of the spectrum while you’re in that graduation gown and get a glimpse of the future. This is just the beginning, and it doesn’t get easier. No more living in a fantasy world, forming swag with your parent’s money.
My aim is to help open the eyes of those who are yet to get to the bridge. You’ll definitely cross it when you get there. I just hope you’ll come prepared. Graduation is only the end of the beginning, not the end outright. If you’ve recently graduated, your life starts now. Start making the best of it and plan for the future.
So, over to you guys. Did you experience a rude awakening when you first entered the job market? What was your transition from fresh graduate to “real life” like? I would love to hear your stories so share them in the comments below.