Stressed, Struggling, Succeeding
The only thing that could make my chocolate-covered mouth fall open—besides another bite of a Bova’s peanut butter chip cannoli—was the Boston skyline. I was a freshman walking back from the North End, gripping my pastry box with sticky fingers. The contents were the aforementioned cannoli, a chocolate-covered strawberry, two chocolate-covered pretzels, and a bag of pizzelles. And then I suddenly stopped walking. I was standing in the middle of Government Center with an open mouth, chocolate-coated lips, and wide eyes.
The buildings that towered over me forced me to halt. I felt their massiveness shrinking me, my problems, and my successes. It was humbling, considering my freshman syndrome—newfound independence and a misguided sense of invincibility. That night, I felt the vastness of the world finally hit me. I stared into the illuminated golden windows, realizing that each of them contained life.
Perhaps the lights were on because inside people were eating dinner, paying bills, or preparing for their next day at work. And perhaps other windows showed no light because the tenants were sleeping, at work, or enjoying themselves at a party. Everybody has a story, and there are so many bodies with so many stories in a world that is so big.
I couldn’t wrap my sugar-loaded brain around it all. I had four more years of story writing before I became a light in a window somewhere that somebody might look up at, hopefully while holding less calories than were in my hands.
Thinking about story telling made me realize how much story I still have left in me. Now concluding my sophomore year, I have two more years to go before the next chapter in my life begins. Yet for those graduating this spring, that next chapter starts now.
Writing, literature, and publishing major, Conner Dial ‘16, transferred to Emerson his junior year from Long Beach Community College in California.
Observing him, it’s hard deciphering the degree to which his distress is exaggerated. He makes gagging noises at the thought of being an adult and cries in mime whenever forced to think about his career.
“Some days I’m super prepared, and then other days it’s very daunting because I think you compare yourself a lot to other people that graduated and whether they are successful or not successful,” says Dial. “It definitely changes every day.”
Considering he goes to the gym four days a week, has a steady job in retail, cooks his own meals, and finally has a stabilized hair color, Dial feels confident about going into the “real world.”
“I literally have my shit together other than [not] having a legit job,” says Dial. “I’m more just looking forward to not being tied down with school and being able to be more self-reliant and independent.”
“I honestly don't think I ever thought about what it'd be like to graduate,” he continues. “It's a very surreal thing, because it actually doesn't feel like a big deal. I feel like I'm doing something wrong though—maybe it should feel bigger. I'm probably just in denial.”
Our feelings about life after college correlate with how well our prior experiences and lessons prepared, shaped, and developed us. My current inhibitions about graduating are partially caused by my lack of career development and partially by my financial insecurity.
“At this point, I’m really ready to just get out there and put my skills to the test,” says communication studies major, Charlie Greenwald ‘16. “There’s always stuff that you wish you learned in college that you didn’t. I wished I learned how to invest my money more diligently, or do my taxes, or change a tire, or build a chair in a woodworking class, but those are all kinds of things that need to do on your own in life. You’ve got to figure it out.”
Theater major, John Michael Mukai ‘16, is currently at Emerson’s Los Angeles Campus. He anticipates a “huge reality check” as he pursues his career in acting post graduation.
“It requires a lot of patience and seizing the right opportunities. Some people don't break out until they’re like 36. At Emerson you don't experience that type of thing as an actor,” says Mukai. “You’re not booking appointments or seeking representation to audition for Musical Theatre Society.”
Visual media arts major, Lauren Cabanas ‘16, has similar concerns. Having “no real concrete plans for the future or a job lined up,” Cabanas says, “It’s terrifying. I have a mini panic attack every day when I remember my degree is in Film.”
Massaging the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb, Dial says, “I’m worried I’m going to descend into mediocrity.”
The stress that comes with our majors—majors that seem crazy to outsiders but are the only things that make sense to us—is temporarily eased in the city. We find places that bring us comfort and distract us from our responsibilities. Going to the Tam multiple times a day, venturing around Allston enough to find it charming, and regrettably finding warmth and consolation in a slice of pizza or an Italian sausage after a night of liver abuse: this is how we get by.
“I’ll miss the harbor,” says Cabanas. “I go there every now and then, usually in the mornings after all-nighters. It’s really pretty and calming, especially when it’s empty. I’m going to need some large body of water wherever I go.”
There are few places like Emerson. It is a predominantly liberal, small, creativity-centered school located in the hub of a college city. It’s surrounded by centuries-old theaters and five-star hotels, and it is down the street from a methadone clinic and across the street from the Public Gardens and Boston Common. Emerson stands where icons were born and movies were filmed. The historic buildings and rich culture are juxtaposed with people riding hoverboards and smoking e-cigarettes. The culture will be difficult to find elsewhere.
“I think it’s going to be interesting kind of re-acclimating to different communities, or different settings, workplaces, or environments where people are not creative thinkers, are more mathematic, scientific, or data driven,” says Greenwald.
Our creative endeavors—what elevate us—are also what tend to bring us down; the late nights that become early mornings spent writing, editing, and rehearsing to the aroma of stale coffee and Red Bull. Once our eyes are almost permanently damaged from the computer light, we watch through heavy eyelids as the evening bleeds into dusk and the dusk blossoms into day, transforming a light-polluted evening into a morning’s pastel sky.
The tired streets illuminated by headlights and the array of city buildings are the backdrop to our years at Emerson. Meanwhile, the raucous of clubgoers, screams of partygoers,d incessant honking of cars and taxis, and unfailing sirens create a song that plays on repeat.
“If I were ready to graduate that would be sad,” says Mukai. “No one should be embarking on a new journey with too much preparation, in my opinion. I might be ready. I'm ready to leave Emerson and have my own life outside of school, but I'm not done being a student and never will be.”
Right now, the desk lamp in my dorm room is on, and I am writing this article as it all too closely approaches the deadline. I still have yet to learn how to avoid procrastinating, though I doubt I ever will. I feel less and less prepared for the real world as the clock changes. It’s 11:45 p.m. and, outside of my Piano Row 14th story window, the night skyline is decorated with sporadic golden rectangles that break up the darkness. As I observe these thousands of glowing rectangles, my white Bed, Bath, and Beyond desk lamp suddenly seems much smaller, as do my inhibitions.
The colors under my eyes are a shade of Emerson purple, and the water ring around my iced Americano has dampened my Moleskine. I have two more years of late night cramming and stress-induced breakouts until I embark on a lifetime of other stresses. The problems I consider large now will be miniscule later in life, or even later this week. However, the weight of my successes will lessen as well.
After leaving Emerson, we will still be stressed, struggling, and succeeding, but in new ways. We will still be students, learning new things in new scenarios with people we’ve never met before. And we will still hopefully find pleasure in what we matriculated in. After all, we poured our hearts and bank accounts into assuring we got really good at what we like to do best. And lastly, we will all be writers. We will form our own narratives and impact the narratives of others from the moment we wake up and turn on the lights to the moment the light in our rooms go out.
Photo by Stella Choi