Thoughts on graduating

I graduated from university a few months ago.

I didn’t blog about it immediately because I didn’t really know how to feel about it. The emotions that I have around university are certainly complex. Decomposing them helps:

  • Happy: That I got to go to university, learned a great deal and came out a largely changed person. There’s something about six years of taking notes on stuff every day, creating hundreds of pages of study notes, writing tens of thousands of words worth of assignments, meeting new people, organising things and participating everywhere you can that widens your horizons and shows you that whatever you know only scratches the surface. Depending on how you count it, for various reasons less than 10% of the world go to university and so I’m very privileged to have had that experience.
  • Regretful: When I started university in 2010, I started full of ideals. I got involved in a fantastic organisation called UN Youth, went to the debating club’s social debates every week, volunteered everywhere I could, participated in free software, ran for the Guild Council (student union) in the Guild Elections, started an amazing part time job and studied things I was really passionate about. My plans for the next year were even bolder. Then something happened. I think I was Icarus and flew too close to the sun. I started to burn out. I made some mistakes that upset some people and really took the pain that I caused to heart. I felt like a monster. I thought nobody would ever want to talk to me again and so I withdrew socially. I resigned from all my positions, stopped going to events and closed my Facebook account. Its a miracle that I even passed some of my classes for the next two years. Its a miracle that my grades are even halfway decent, though they’re nowhere near as good as they could have been. Over the next five years I found it difficult to get involved with anything and I had a huge difficulty trusting myself not to hurt others. I regret not finding a way past that, because it meant that I couldn’t be as involved as a truly wanted to be.
  • Anxious: University provides a safety net. People seem to give it this intrinsic value where it comes first above all other things. I could use it to escape from commitments people were forcing on to me that I didn’t want. Now that its gone, I need to learn how to be accountable for my own time and how to let other people down when you can’t give them what they want. Its a scary thought and a difficult transition to make.
  • Experienced: Perhaps experienced is the wrong word because university isn’t really a place where you go to get real-world experience. But I think I’m certainly more experienced than I am innocent. My experience at university has taught me about the ways that people can try to manipulate you and what the signs are that you’re ending up in a codependent situation. I’m starting to learn that only you are responsible for setting the direction you want in life and you have to follow your own feelings and not what other people tell you to do. I started out studying a Law degree because I was good at the feeder subjects at school, had the grades to get in and most importantly, its what other people told me to do. I finished my Law degree because that’s what other people told me to do. I didn’t want to disappoint those people, so I  ended up disappointing myself. I always wanted to study something like Software Engineering or Computer Science but I rationalised myself out of it.
  • Frustrated: I’m lucky. I never failed a course and I completed my degree ahead of schedule. But I don’t think I appreciated just how long it would take me when I signed up to do it. I started in 2010 and graduated in 2016. That’s six years worth of study. I took a total of 53 courses – 49 from my main degree programme and 4 in Math and Computer Science out of stream. Each course runs over the course of half a year and I’d typically take four or five per semester. I tried working in law practices for a little while, but I’m not sure if I’m at the right point in my life where I want to do that. I want to make stuff, not facilitate transactions. I’m 24 now and I feel like I’m at the point in my life where I should have had my story straight by now. I’m also wondering where the last three years went.

I’ve actually tried to write a lot of posts where I get these feelings down in writing, but I’ve struggled because I feel like it has to come to some sort of symphonic climax or moment of catharsis. There isn’t one. I’m sure there are lots of other components to the complex feeling that I have about graduating that I haven’t quite identified yet, but I’ll keep trying.

I think I’m also scared about posting this too, even though I want to. I’m scared about who might read it and what they might think of me. I’m worried that I’m not supposed to be feeling the way that I’m feeling and that I should be feeling happy and optimistic like everyone says I should. I don’t though. Maybe I just need to admit that.

I’m also not confident that writing this post and pushing “publish” is going to give me a deep sense of relief or new purpose. The only thing I can do is continue to move forward. I’ll make new commitments, shed the old ones and reflect on my progress in the next year.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on graduating

  1. I’m also right about the same age, interested in open source, and about to graduate (1 year away!). (I’m from the US though, and so our legal systems are obviously a little different.) Look on the positive side of the degree you have: you are an officially recognized professional in the area of the law, but at the same time, you actually understand technology. Our society *really* needs those kinds of people if we aren’t going to doomed to having laws about technology that make no sense. Invariably, technology and law keep crossing paths because of the disruptive nature of technology.

    In the US (at least, but maybe also in your country), you must be officially qualified to give legal advice. Being a Software Engineer but studying law in your free time doesn’t allow you to give legal advice in our country. Being a judge of any significance basically requires that you were a lawyer first. Because of that, we have judges that are experts in the law, but are generally clueless about technology. The frustrating part is that being a judge or lawyer requires a high level of expertise in law. Being a software developer requires a high level of expertise in technology and programming. It is very rare to find people who have enough patience to actually be an expert in both! I say hats of to you.

    You should know that I’m not saying this to say you need to be a judge or lawyer, just that we need people that understand both sides, and at some point, having official credentials may come in handy.

    You should know that I look up to you for the contribution you made to Free/Open source software. You were an inspiration that you don’t have to be old or specially trained to make a difference. (And I would say that is part of why I’m going for my Software Engineering degree today).

    1. Thanks! That’s actually really inspiring to hear! Actually really made my day. I’m glad my example has given you some inspiration. If there’s anything I can ever help you out with, please get in touch and let me know :D. Believe it or not, I recently found a university that might be able to get me a CS degree in the space of a year.

      As for legal systems – getting a Law degree in Australia doesn’t qualify you to be a lawyer either – you have to do a separate course for it and work in law firms for a little while. I’ve done that, so technically, I could go down that path. I think you’re right that its important to have people who understand both sides – I suppose I’ve yet to find a case where its come in handy yet, but soon maybe.

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