Graduation anxieties tax seniors

With graduation and what lies beyond fast approaching for the Class of 1994, seniors’ anxieties about the future are mounting as deadlines for graduate school and corporate recruiting interviews approach.

Every senior class faces the same pressures. But Dr. Mark Reed, a professor of clinical psychiatry and staff psychiatrist at Dick’s House, said the death last Tuesday of Daniel Boyer ’94 made many seniors realize that they are afraid of what will happen when they graduate in June.

Though no one is sure why Boyer took his life, his death has made everyone — seniors in particular — stop and reflect on the pressures they are experiencing and how to deal with them.

“We thought it was all over when we chose a college, but that decision just pales in comparison with what we are going through now,” Randy White ’94 said. “This is the rest of our life.”

Seniors are fast finding there is no escape from “the rest of their lives.” The constantly-asked question “What are you going to do next year?” haunts the graduates-to-be.

Creating a life after college is a very complicated process. “There is a lot of pressure to meet their own and other’s expectations,” Reed, the doctor, said. “There are both internal pressures and external pressures from classmates and family.”

Many students find they have spent most of their lives working toward one goal, and suddenly, they are not so sure it is what they really want.

“In speaking about Dan and for anyone who puts a lot of time into something — taking all the right classes and doing everything right socially — and you find yourself getting close to getting it, it is awfully hard when questions come up after all that. When you are not sure if that is what you really want, it is awfully hard to let it go,” Reed said.

“Most of us get into a certain track and do not ask too many questions along the way,” Reed said. “It is easy to do that, but when something like this happens, it makes you stop and think what the meaning of it all is. One thing Dan has given us is the opportunity to reflect.”

Reed said he emphasizes to students that it is never too late to change career directions and that making a major change is perfectly normal.

“The truth is that you can always change your mind,” Reed said. “What makes suicide such a tragedy is that for a period of time we lose track of our options and feel trapped and that there is no way out. And suicide seems to be the best and only option.”

These nagging anxieties are caused by fear of the unknown and a sense that the decisions made now will have life-long consequences, Reed said.

“No one even knows if they’re competitive enough to get a job,” said Kiley Barnhorst ’94, who is hoping to get a job through corporate recruiting. “And it is scary to know that you could be in any city doing any job next year.”

The corporate recruiting process — where companies come to Dartmouth to interview students for corporate jobs — is an intimidating, stressful part of senior year.

“In corporate recruiting, you know that you are competing with people in your class and even your friends,” White said. “There are about 400-500 students going through corporate recruiting, and there is a limited number of jobs. It is not an environment you want for your senior year.”

Barnhorst said now that corporate recruiting is actually underway it is not as scary as just thinking about it.

“I think I am getting more relaxed,” she said. “Before corporate recruiting started, when information sessions were starting, we didn’t know what we were getting into. Now we are all starting to get a grip on how it works.”

Because an economic recession has plagued the job market over the past few years, an Ivy League degree no longer guarantees a lucrative and comfortable job after graduation.

“Talking to grads from 10 to 20 years ago … they just cannot understand. They think there are all these jobs out there,” White said. “When they came out, there were three offers for each graduate. Now there are three graduates fighting for each job.”

“I am happy to see in the papers that the economic indicators are looking up. Hopefully, we will be the first class to take advantage of all the jobs that should open up after the recession ends,” he added.

And more students are choosing to go to graduate school because of the current job market.

“There are definitely some people going back to school just to continue their educational lifestyle,” White said. “After all, we do not work 100 hours a week here. But there are worse things one can do after graduation. Grad school is grad school. It is not an escape. People are going to work their asses off there.”

Reed said it is important to keep your options open. Many seniors are doing just that, experimenting in the first years after graduation.

“I might go to grad school, I am doing corporate recruiting, and I might just take the year off and travel,” White said. “I am trying to keep every option open and looking to take advantage of every opportunity available to me. … When you focus on one thing too much that there might be problems.”

Dr. Charles Ravaris, a psychiatry professor at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said it is important to realize that anxieties about the future are normal.

“Living and coping with life and all of its exigencies is stressful enough for all of us,” Ravaris said. “Graduation from college marks another significant change in … life and change is always difficult.”

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