by Mason Whitlam
As I reflect back on my four years at The University of Tampa, I am fascinated by how quickly my time flew by here. It feels like just yesterday I was flying down from my home state of Ohio, following through on the largest life altering decision of my life. As nervous as I was about this change, I could have never imagined how much I would learn inside and outside of the classroom and grow into the person I am today. Four years later, I feel as if I am going through the difficult decision of choosing a college again. Knowing that whatever I choose will set the trajectory of my life. Instead of choosing a college, this time around I’m choosing a career.
After a night of celebration with friends and family, I wake up at 6:30 a.m. to get ready for graduation. At 7:30, my friends arrive at my place. On the ride to the Florida State Fairgrounds, we joke about old times, while banging out to some of our favorite songs of the past four years. But with all the joy of graduation, there was a hint of uneasiness about the future in the air that none of us could seem to point out. In less than two hours, our names would be called to conclude on a four year chapter of our lives. So the feeling of this ride to graduation being considered “bittersweet” is an understatement. Upon arrival, our friend group all sat together one last time as classmates as we awaited our names to be called.
I could hear my family in the crowd cheering as my name was called and I made my way slowly across the stage to snap a picture with President Vaughn. It was a weird feeling walking out of graduation. The last month of my senior year felt like one long Beethoven crescendo with some of the most intense studying for final exams and projects of my college career. But suddenly, the crescendo transitioned to a silence after graduation, and I began to feel lost. I celebrated one last time with my friends before heading back to Ohio the next day for a couple weeks to see some friends and family. I said my goodbyes to the friends who were moving back home, to different states and even different countries. I always knew that going to a school where 50% of the students are from out-of-state would eventually result in me saying goodbye to friends that I wouldn’t know when the next time I would see them. I didn’t like to think about it at my time at UT, but it was surreal to have that day finally arrive.
After a couple weeks back home, I was ready to head back to Tampa to face this reality that my parents have been telling me about for many years. It’s a scary moment going into the work life all alone. It’s different from going into college because I knew what my four years were going to entail. Now I didn’t even know if I would be in the same job one year from now (I left after two months). The first job I took, I soon realized, was not for me. I didn’t prepare myself enough for post-college and took the first job offered to me. I had constant anxiety about succeeding in the real world or if I could budget myself properly to make my bills and pay down my student loans. With my first job being mainly commission-based, it just added to my anxiety of not being good enough. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would have been a lot more patient with my job search.
I was having a conversation with a friend one day after graduation talking about the anxiety of my lack of preparedness for the real world. We talked about how the past 18 years of our life had been constantly measured and rewarded for successes in life. But now we felt like we were lost, not knowing if we were making decisions that could potentially impact the rest of our lives.
Did I scare you enough to stay in college for as long as possible? I can understand it, but it does get better. I learned from my mistakes in my job search and trusted the process this time. Finally, one day in early July, I received an email saying that Citigroup wanted to interview me. I couldn’t believe it. It was one of my dream companies based on their reputation and history in the finance world. My mood suddenly changed, and I was determined to destroy this interview.
As I am writing this, I am on the eve of my first day at Citi. I was offered a comfortable salary, which will allow me to mainly focus on being a valuable asset to this wonderful business. The months leading up to the point have been very stressful, and I had many days of doubt if I could be what I always envisioned I would be. Graduation can be a stressful time, but UT prepares you well enough to allow you to succeed in the world. There will be self-doubt, but trust the process and utilize that doubt to channel it into molding the best version of yourself to prove a valuable asset in anything you set your mind to.
Mason Whitlam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org