The Journey

Friends After Graduation
By Stephanie Baker

A swanky loft in an up-and-coming-neighborhood. After-work cocktails at an obscure café. Dashing around town to meet clients and out-of-town guests.

How desirable, how exhilarating. And how so not true.

The ideas we have about our lives after graduation don't always turn out to be reality. Relocating to a new city, living on your own for the first time, starting a career. Daunting. Combine all of this with being separated from family and old friends and it can be overwhelming for some.

Regardless of major, career trajectory or location, one thing is universal in post-graduation life: meeting new people and building new relationships.

Unsurprisingly, as generation after generation of Whitworth alumni have learned, this is no easy task, and the process is ongoing. But some general tips can help to make life changes smoother.

Author William Bridges identifies many of these strategies in his book, Transitions.

"New beginnings are accessible to everyone, and everyone has trouble with them," he says. "Everyone has a slightly different version of these anxieties and confusions, but in one way or another they all arise from the fear that real change destroys the old ways in which we established our security."

When our security, those comforts of a familiar on-campus environment and a group of trusted friends, are suddenly missing, how do we maintain a sense of self? How do you rebuild your phonebook so that you aren't sitting alone on a Friday night? How do you, as the old Girl Scout song tells us, "make new friends but keep the old"? After all, "one is silver and the other gold." These are the hiccups many students don't anticipate in their life after graduation.

Alan Mikkelson, '00, now a communications professor at Whitworth, has not only experienced the transition of starting a new phase in his own life but has seen many of his students navigate these changes.

"I worry that students think life after college is the same as being in school except you are working," he says. Students who have entered the workforce typically have less flexible time, working 8 to 5.

"It leaves little time to go out and try to make connections," says Mikkelson.

But we must soldier on, dodging the whirlwind of burgeoning careers, landlords, and paychecks.

As Bridges reminds us, "To make a successful new beginning, it is important to do more than simply persevere. It is important to understand what it is within us that undermines our resolve and casts doubt on our plans."

The first fear is that we will be alone. But the act of making friends introduces the fear of rejection; this adds up to an anxiety that can make it hard to act at all. For some, making friends and starting a new life is fairly easy, but for others it can be intimidating.

We are lucky in that we live in a technologically advanced age; we can stay well-connected to our old friends via Facebook, cell phones, and e-mail. All communication is instantaneous, fairly cost-effective and easy, making it more likely that even from a distance relationships will be maintained.

Ozzie Crocco,'08, can relate. Now working at Payap University, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as a residential life assistant in the international dorm, he expressed his understanding about relationships after graduation.

"It's not the same level of connection because of the situation change," Crocco said. "All my friends don't live in the same building anymore."

However, Crocco points out, "I call, e-mail, and use Facebook. Calling is the easiest way to keep in touch though, because I can do a lot of relationship building in a shorter amount of time in a phone call."

Alumni like Crocco find keeping a balance between the "old life" (that is, everything up until graduation), and the new life (everything after) is a delicate task. While it is important to maintain relationships that served as strong systems of support prior to graduation, it is dangerous to rely too heavily on them. While ease of communication is a great asset to maintaining relationships, sitting at home and social networking at the expense of meeting new people robs you of the opportunity to begin new friendships.

Mikkelson speaks about the imperative of asserting yourself and reaching out for new community.

"It takes more work but you have to be intentional about meeting new people," he says. "Find a place where you can connect with people, be friendly and know there are good people there. You just have to give yourself the opportunity to meet them."

Mikkelson and Crocco attribute their success in building new relationships to finding shared experiences. Both have met and fostered close relationships through faith-based groups.

"I meet people at activities like church, Frisbee, work, and randomly at bars," says Crocco. "You've got to put yourself out there, meet people, get to know them, and then some of those people really stick and become good friends."

Some alumni find that joining a group or an activity to participate in is a great starting point to ease oneself into a new community. Although it can be intimidating to walk into a group of people and have no prior relationships with any of them, trust yourself to do it. You'll come out alive.

Bridges says, "The first [step] is to stop getting ready and to act. Getting ready can turn out to be an endless task, and one of the forms that inner resistance often takes is the attempt to make just a few more preparations."

Meeting your new best friends may happen right away but if you see your efforts as part of the process rather than failed attempts you will have an easier time trying again. Remember that you are in a transitional phase. Repeat "things take time" until you believe it.

"Relationships take time. The more time I invest in relationships the more they grow and evolve into something special to my heart," Crocco said.

Building new relationships without any prior common ground requires dedication, determination and a strong sense of self. Bridges suggests taking things step by step: keep the end in mind.

Despite the challenges associated with life readjustments, both Mikkelson and Crocco have found fulfilling relationships in life after university.

Even if it means slapping on a "Hello, my name is…" nametag for the fifth time, be patient. Brush your teeth, smile big and keep your options open. You'll make it.