So I’ve Graduated, Now What?

I still cannot believe graduation has already come and gone! May 2015 always seemed so faraway, from Day 1 Orientation till the last finals week just two months ago. It was until my diploma arrived in hard copy that I dared believe it was all true.

Foolishly enough, I kept panicking I had left some little requirement unfulfilled or somehow managed to fail a class, that I wasn’t actually graduating somehow.

Graduation itself was surreal enough. This last finals period contained just as many all-nighters as did the previous seven! I spent my last official week at Cornell as a student downing coffee by the gallon and walking around the arts quad at 2am, desperate to stay awake somehow in order to finish one more paper. By the time May 24th rolled around I was so out of it – and in desperate need for a good weeklong sleep marathon – that the long anticipated ceremonies seemed like a blip.

Suddenly most people I knew in undergrad were clustered in one place, hugging each other in big black gowns, taking photos and promising to keep in touch.

(Sally on the right on graduation day.)

Sally (right) on graduation day.

After it was all said and done, everyone kind of wandered off on their own or in little bunches, hanging around Collegetown for one last round of sangria.

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Postgrad life feels – to this day – oddly free but also slightly aimless.

It isn’t quite as dramatic as Dustin Hoffman makes it out to be in “The Graduate”, but close. Suddenly everyone makes the dreaded small talk: “So whereabouts are you heading off to?” As if anyone really knew where exactly one is headed off to at any point in life! Although I know there is something waiting for me at the end of August, it has been a long time since I last had a whole two months’ time to just travel and relax.  I really did like being at Cornell most of the time, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit there weren’t times – mostly while trying to climb up the slope to class during a snowstorm – I wish I were in NYC!

I spent the entire of June meeting up with long-lost friends in the city, walking around the Village hunting down decent dinner spots, and hanging around indie bookshops in the Columbia University area (Book Culture is the best!). Every day felt like a metaphor of what postgrad life feels like: I’d begin at a set point and end at a definite destination of sorts, but have no idea – and plan to have no idea – how exactly I am going to get there. Stumbling onto something is my favorite part of day.

Friends scattered all over the world immediately after graduation, mostly taking their parents out on tours of America or Europe. One or two truly ambitious souls started work right away in New York or California and now are only seen as little green dots on Facebook. I am truly relieved that most of my close friends are moving to NYC come fall 2015: as fantastic as NYC is, it would be rather lonely without company!


Some are moving here for grad school and others for work, all looking for that truly cheap steal of a deal for a one-bedroom apartment in midtown Manhattan. The ones who have already arrived are already scouting for the best Chinese food around, late night or for lunch.

Everyone I know who has graduated this May is either going somewhere or looking for a destination. And none of it – the job hunt, the wait for grad offers or other – is as horrible or as easy as people made it out to be in years before me. Perhaps it is because I’m a stubborn optimist, but I really do agree with the old Chinese saying: “车到山前必有路”. Even if a path isn’t set immediately after graduation, paths will be formed by people taking small steps! All one really needs is the chutzpah to keep placing one foot in front of the other.

Sally Ruge Gao

Sally Ruge Gao

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