By Shelley Murphy
As I say goodbye to 2015, I bid a bittersweet final farewell to the Capistrano Unified School District calendar. I miss the structure of CUSD’s calendar and the daily dependability that once determined my sons’ schedules.
In 2016, I’m replacing the solid CUSD calendar with a questionable collegiate calendar. My new calendar isn’t as predictable, yet I rely on its scheduled winter holiday and summer break with the promise of family reunions.
Reviewing my 2015 calendar, the only day circled in red confirmed my younger son’s move to his college campus and the ensuing emptying of our nest. The one date circled in scarlet in my 2016 calendar celebrates my older son’s college graduation. Or, as my fiscally focused husband says, “The day one son is off the payroll.”
It seems like yesterday when I was sitting in the stands at Thalassa Stadium, my adrenaline rushing as the roll call reached my older son’s name. The turn of a tassel, a blink of an eye and suddenly the San Clemente High School Class of 2012 are the college graduates of 2016.
December’s winter break reunited my son’s friends from the Class of 2012. Predictably, their conversations have evolved from “What colleges did you get into?” to “What are you doing after college?”
Some of his friends have found jobs, some sought internships, some applied to graduate school and some, like my son, are in limbo.
Once my son’s friends returned to their respective campuses, I jumped at the chance to talk with him about graduation—but my excitement was matched by his apathy. I couldn’t understand the confusing dichotomy. He’s submitted his graduation evaluation, and it’s verified that he’ll indeed graduate in May.
I rambled on about hotel reservations and celebratory plans. I asked my son to pick a restaurant for his graduation party. Instead of anticipatory delight, he shrugged in silence. This is my son who, to my knowledge, has never passed up a party invitation. I heeded the red flag warning and dialed down my enthusiasm.
Later, I realized I’m not the only one clinging to the calendar. For most of my son’s life, he’s depended on a school schedule and the security of knowing where to be and what to expect. When he graduates, he’ll trade his familiar student status for unfamiliar full-time employment, and his calendar will no longer run on its rock-solid August to May rigidity.
At commencement this May, when my son crosses the stage and receives his diploma, he loses the steady footing of student life to teeter on the precipice of adulthood.
Investing in a college education is one of the largest financial endeavors of a young adult’s life, and the pressure for the investment to pay off is powerful.
As my son seeks a career utilizing his college degree, he fears underemployment as much as unemployment. According to a recent article in Forbes, “44 percent of college grads in their 20s are stuck in low-wage, dead-end jobs—the highest rate in decades.”
Not all graduates face an abyss of ambiguity. A 2015 Gallup-Purdue Index national survey of college graduates found students felt their education was worth the cost and contributed to workplace success if they established mentoring relationships with professors, worked an internship related to their education and participated in extracurricular activities related to their studies.
My son followed the advice in the Forbes article, and he’s trying to connect the dots leading to his dream career while confronting his first “real” job jitters. In just five months, my son moves from the place he’s called home (and I’ve called school) for the past four years and embarks on an uncharted journey.
I’m entering new territory, too; 2016 marks the first time in two decades that I can’t call both my boys students. As my older son faces this year of uncertainty, I’m confident I’ll watch proudly as he accepts his college diploma and discovers what his 2016 calendar holds for him.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband and for the past 17 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times since 2006.