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Column: Did friendships make it onto your post-graduation checklist?

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A group of students pose for a photo at Polk Place on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. Forming friendships and communities, especially after graduation, is all about intention.

Picture this: You’ve made it. You graduated with your degree. You interviewed and landed your dream job in your favorite city. They’re paying you a very pretty penny. You did everything right, but when you look around on that first day at a new job in a new city, you realize something important is missing: your friends.

Making friends post-graduation isn’t necessarily a focus area at University Career Services or Counseling and Psychological Services, even though social connection is an essential part of our well-being. Connecting in this way is a skill that has to be learned, but college life makes the process seem more natural than it actually is. 

There are over 900 organizations listed on Heel Life with flyers all around campus. Going to class means passing by events, club tables or people just hanging out in the Pit or the Quad. It means meeting up with friends to study and grab dinner. It means easily finding people that share your interests or hobbies. While all these avenues for connection are available to us, it’s not always students’ first priority.

“I had a very capitalistic, goal-oriented mindset in college that I am currently deconstructing as a young adult,” said Shatera McNair, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus who graduated last May.

McNair said she prioritized money, grades and her profession while in school, so most of her social life was a byproduct of classroom interactions, work environments and service organizations.

McNair also explained how being a Black woman and a first-generation college student perpetuated this “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, which didn’t leave much room for friends without benefits.

Striking that perfect balance between social life and academics favors the people who already know what they’re doing. These are people with college funds and college-graduated parents who already know the system quite well.

“I feel like some of the classes and the skill sets at UNC are geared for people going to grad school,” Julie Bonds, a 2022 UNC graduate, said. Graduate school is not a financially feasible option for her.

“Whatever your struggles are in undergraduate, you’re gonna have the same things at your job,” Bonds said. 

As a transfer student during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bonds and other students like her could have benefited from learning communicative skills for post-graduation success while still at the University. The lack thereof allows students to think things will be as natural and accessible when they leave college, but they aren’t.

With six months of free services from University Career Services and 30 days for CAPS, graduates don’t have long before they’re left to figure it out alone.

I learned from speaking with Bonds and McNair that intention is everything.

Working at a remote job, Bonds has to be intentional about maintaining her social life while being online. That includes finding roommates you like, working in coffee shops you enjoy, going to the gym, visiting friends, not working past your hours even though you’re at home and finding other ways to keep from feeling isolated.

Bonds also stressed the importance of learning how to build relationships with older employees after spending “so much time around college-aged people.”

McNair took intentionality in a different direction. Entering the City Year Chicago program was a way for McNair to be around other young adults interested in youth development and establish a community. Moving to Chicago was also intentional for McNair to connect with the Black queer community, where she could feel “psychologically safe”.

“I wanted to be in a bubble,” McNair said, although she admits it still hasn’t been easy.

Proximity is essential for McNair, which makes maintaining relationships from her university days a little harder. She showed me her wall of pictures with friends and family that remind her that, even while far away, they are still accessible.

“Have it where you can effortlessly notice them, remember them, and in a natural way,” McNair advised.

While there are definitely ways to figure it out as you go, figuring out those social skills while you’re still in school will make the transition out of college a whole lot easier. The University could also do a better job ushering its students in that direction, not just the ones that already know where to go.

But, most importantly, know where your values lie. If you treasure your relationships, current or future ones, the work necessary to maintain them won’t feel so hard.

@dthopinion

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