As the sun sets beneath the blossoming bluffs in Winona, it suddenly dawns on me that we are one day closer to the big day.
Saying goodbye to all-night study sessions, going out on the weekdays and tiptoeing between the line of adulthood and adolescence. It’s the moment all college seniors must face – walking across the stage to grab that well-deserved diploma, while fighting mixed feelings of excitement, exhilaration and downright panic.
As I count down the days until my small world in Winona becomes only a memory, I realize there has never been a moment like this before, which holds so many assorted emotions.
While I can’t wait to make my mark on the world and show off my sparkling certificate of a Bachelor’s degree, I cling to my familiar surroundings and dread the changes that are about to occur.
In order to fully understand my plethora of sentiments, it was comforting to find other soon-to-be graduates balancing these same feelings.
Elizabeth Meinders, an English and mass communication senior at WSU, said the moment she stepped on campus, she knew she was where she belonged.
“I chose Winona State because of the environment and atmosphere,” Meinders said. “It really did – and it’s strange to say – but I felt like I was home and I could feel this emotional connection.”
Meinders said she isn’t too worried about finding a job after graduation, but she is nervous about immersing herself in a new work environment and making a long-term commitment. She is currently sorting through several offers to begin her career, in hopes of doing something she loves.
“I have a lot of options and opportunities,” Meinders said. “It’s simply making that choice. That’s the most terrifying part – cause I’m going to be there for a long time.”
Dan Gitto, a graduating senior with a psychology major, said he was going through the same uncertainty when faced with the unknown beyond graduation. Gitto plans on moving to his Australia in January for a yearlong missions trip for Campus Crusade for Christ. He will also be getting married four months before departing.
“There is going to be a lot going on,” Gitto said. “There are a lot of new things that are going to be happening, but ultimately good stuff.”
During his time at WSU, Gitto said being a resident assistant on campus has prepared him the most for life after graduation.
“I think it was a job that gave well-rounded skills,” Gitto said. “There are a lot of opportunities in it to use in the business world. But I also had a lot of fun with my residents and staff.”
Liz Dingbaum, a senior graduating with a degree in chemistry, said she has been well into the post-graduation planning for quite some time.
“I chose my major because I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but I didn’t know what I specifically wanted to do,” Dingbaum said. “In high school, I looked up the requirements for pre-pharmacy and pre-med and I picked the one that was more difficult, which was pre-pharmacy.”
Dingbaum said she plans on attending University of California – Davis to get her masters in public health and will also be applying to medical school this summer.
Despite her excitement about jumping into furthering her education, Dingbaum said she was sad to leave behind all of the connections she made during her time at WSU.
“I’m moving, obviously, really far across the country,” Dingbaum said. “I can’t just walk across the street and hang out with all of my friends, so that will be difficult to adjust to, along with leaving the mentorship I’ve had here.”
While it was comforting to see my fellow graduating seniors were going through the same feelings of ambiguity, there was a common connection between them all. Even though the future seemed like a daunting apprehension, each graduating senior I met with donned a feeling of readiness.
They were eager to hone the skills they’ve been practicing for the past four years and make a difference in the new places they will belong to. In the words of WSU’s mission statement, it’s easy to see the graduating class of 2015 has never been more prepared to become “a community of learners improving our world.”