"The Real World"

By ANNE MULROONEY
On April 22, 2014

Lilacs hardly breed in Buffalo, but T. S. Eliot got it right when he wrote that April is the cruelest month.

Tantalizing whispers of spring are spastically punctuated with precipitation in our fair city. One day, all is sweet and lovely; the next, it snows. We have yet to put away our heavy sweaters, and the days of short sleeves are far in the future.

It is the in-between time, and life is transitional for both the earth and college students. And for seniors, April may be the cruelest month of all - and not just because of Buffalo's weather.

Fourth-year students must attack their spring workload with the rest of us, setting about their studies and finishing up their final projects, all while sitting on the realization that graduation is less than a month away. For many, the undergraduate days of course registration, meal plans, research papers and ramen noodles are coming to an end (well, maybe not the ramen noodles).

How bittersweet it is. How sentimental, how dazed, and how prematurely nostalgic these almost-graduates become.

As a junior, my heart stirs as I hear seniors remarking on how strange and different life will be after UB. I nod gravely, smile sadly, and know that I, too, will one day face the intimidating change with similar sentiments. It is impossible not to sympathize with their anxiety for the future, coupled with their awakened gratitude for college days.

But among the endearing sighs, there's one phrase that sneaks its way into the typical college senior's vernacular that sparks no sympathy in me. We've all heard these three words tossed around in conversation - these three words that somehow sum up life post-graduation: "the real world."

This ridiculous phrase thrives mercilessly in seniors' vocabulary this time of year. You'll hear the almost-graduates say things like, "I don't want to go to the real world!" or, "After college, the real world seems terrifying," or "I can't believe I have a job locked down already - off to the real world I go!"

I can hardly blame my peers and friends for employing these toxic words so frequently. The phrase has been so long established and so ingrained in our natural dialogue that I think most of us are numb to it, giving no real thought to its implications.

But let's examine what we really mean when we say, "the real world." Is it a harmless term, coined for the convenience of distinguishing different walks of life? Or is it a reflection of something far more harmful, soiling the lens through which society observes and analyzes our lives?

By deeming the post-graduation world as "real," we imply that the pre-graduation world is somehow "fake."

This is an unhealthy ideology. Our memories, our past and current relationships, and our hard work all born in college become irrelevant under this philosophy. Looking toward the land of business, interviews, salaries and resumes, we fall under a corporate spell, viewing our pre-career days as means to an end.

When we divide our lives into sections of "real" and "not real," "fake" and "not fake," we attempt to compartmentalize entire sections of our lives. We try to deem them legitimate as we see fit. We operate under this idea that we can divide life up into convenient little packages - as if reality will wait for our permission to begin.

College seniors aren't the only ones guilty of this nonsensical mindset. I, for one, have dismissed entire years of my life, all because I've been waiting for something better. And in this state of childish anticipation, I forgot to live. Instead of approaching each day with gratitude and joy, I brushed it off, thoughtlessly barraging through time.

I waved off days, seasons and years, thinking: I'll wait until Friday, and then I'll change something. I'll wait until summer, and things will be different. I'll wait until I'm out of high school, then I'll really live the way I want to. I'll wait until I graduate, then I'll enter the real world. Then, life will matter.

I feel compelled to remind not just college seniors, but all humans - including myself - that we are alive, and today is real. We forget this glorious and terrifying truth too often.

Reality, whether we've realized it, has started and will end without us. It is not subject to hierarchy; it is not subject to our whims or labels. 

We don't always realize the magnitude of our existence, and we have a tendency to take our time on earth for granted. This is forgivable; after all, we're only human. But let's toss away these foolish notions of real and false worlds, legitimate and illegitimate experiences. It's all been legitimate. It's all been real - every year, every semester, every April.

As the seniors of 2015 finish off their final exams and start their job-hunts, let's all remember to laugh, to learn, to grow and to live each day. Do it with intention; do it with gratitude.

email: anne.mulrooney@ubspectrum.com


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