What’s next? This is a scary question, because it crept up on me. After what seemed like an endless buildup during the last few years — and really, throughout my life — I finally walked the stage and received my diploma certifying me as a college graduate.
Months removed from that milestone, it still feels weird to say. I spent the greater part of 19 years of academia working toward that moment, to experience what I could only describe as the most anticlimactic moment I have experienced.
This feeling had nothing to do with the “specialness” of the graduation. I would be the first to express how appreciative and grateful I felt throughout the Harvard commencement activities and ceremonies, not for what they meant for me, but rather for my parents to see all of their work and sacrifices validated.
Trust me, the feeling of accomplishment was no less exciting than I had imagined. Something was lacking, however. With the diploma in hand, I believed I would be flooded with sense of relaxation and optimism as I looked toward the future, and as the date came closer I didn’t think that would change.
I woke up the next morning, and realized this excitement and relaxation was replaced by that question and, more importantly, overwhelming anxiety.
Less than 24 hours after the ceremony, we were kicked out of our dorms and told, rather bluntly, we were done and we needed to move on.
The life structure that came with education, and which I took for granted, was simply and unceremoniously removed, leaving me to suddenly grasp how much life was going to change.
Yeah, it wasn’t as if I didn’t know this was coming, but I didn’t expect to just be thrown into adjusting to a new phase of life so suddenly.
Life, the options, the responsibilities, the expectations, suddenly seemed massive, like incomprehensibly big. I came rather close to letting this anxiety become more all-encompassing when I realized the comfort I was looking for was within the words I had shared with my classmates days earlier.
Given the religious diversity of Harvard’s student body, organizing the baccalaureate service traditional to many graduation ceremonies is a different process than, say, the Mass celebrated when I graduated from Marquette University High School. Wanting to reflect that religious diversity, the school chaplains choose one or two graduating seniors from each faith to read a particular passage of their choice.
I submitted a prayer, one I held dear since I learned it in high school, and was surprised when I was chosen as the reader for the Catholic faith. Yes, I was proud and grateful to be chosen, but saying I was worried would be a slight understatement. Though I read it in English and Spanish, I’m happy to report it went without incident.
Why is this relevant? Well, the story isn’t but the prayer is. Attributed to Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, it’s a spiritual reflection on which I had long and often looked to for comfort and, more importantly, perspective.
It talks about a willingness to understand that, no matter how big, unmanageable and overwhelming life seems, we are living but a small part of it; whatever it is that we do with our time, we are building toward something greater, something we may not see, but something that brings greater fulfillment:
It helps, now and then, to step back
and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny
fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we
do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always
lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes
the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing
that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond
We cannot do everything, and there is a
sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and
to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
I admit I’m guilty of not following my own advice. In an effort to share a reflection with my classmates as we go our separate ways, I neglected to realize that, even now, I benefit from the life lessons of these words
So back to the question: What’s next? Well, I have a job at an investment management firm in Los Angeles and am starting to establish the first stones of living independently as an adult, but honestly, my answer would be something simpler: I don’t really know and that’s OK with me.
There may not be a familiar structure to life, but I’m sure I’ll figure out how to adjust.
(Espino, a 2011 graduate of Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and political science at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in May 2015, works at an investment management firm in Los Angeles. His home parish is St. Vincent de Paul, Milwaukee. Email him at email@example.com)