Several weeks ago, seniors were prompted to pick up their caps and gowns. Though every fiber of my consistently-delaying-the-inevitable-being simply wanted to ignore this command, skip graduation, and light out for the territories, I eventually discarded my evasive impulses and took another step along the path toward college rapture. Upon entering the Madison Street Lounge Graduation Preparation Carnival and County Fair Emporium of Fun, Fun, Fun, however, I immediately wished I hadn’t. Scattered across the room — seemingly distorted by a strategically placed series of fun house mirrors — sat station after graduation and post-graduation-themed station. There were Alumni contact forms (expect donation requests no later than May 8) and glinting class jewelry galore. There were sashes and cords and a Class of 2011 banner splattered with colorful, haphazard signatures. Amidst all the chaos, though, a diamond in the tamest of roughs, Aphrodite with pages, lay beckoning. “Life After School Explained: A gift from the Keene State College Parents Association.” A humble offering? Yes. Life altering? Absolutely…or so I facetiously thought.
Upon cracking this tome of seemingly bottomless insight and incalculable knowledge, however, I immediately realized how unfounded my fabricated-for-the- purposes-of-this-column optimism had been. “Seminar One:” it read “Avoid Looking Stupid at Dinner.” Ladies and gentlemen, dearest loyal readers, newest converts, and most unwavering enemies, I hope you appreciate the absurdity of what I am communicating. The first forty pages of every senior’s only post-college survival guide is dedicated solely to dinner etiquette. Chapter 2: Seating. Chapter 3: Glasses & bread plates. Chapter 5: The basics of wine. Chapter 11: After dinner. “Early Stevie Wonder” would be loosely defined as the time period of 1963-1976,” one sidebar reads “Items worthy of discussion would include Stevie’s early hits, such as “Fingertips, Part 2.” “Ladies” another sidebar titled “Lipstick” says “monitor your lipstick when going out on a work dinner… You’re not a dog. You don’t have to mark your territory by smearing lipstick all over your glass.” Believe me when I say I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, I am simply not funny enough, and though wildly helpful (everybody loves them some Stevie, right?) I must admit that by the time I got to the final “After Dinner” portion of the section I was disappointed. “Life After School Explained” I exclaimed, “how soon is too soon to begin throwing casual sexual advances at your boss?!” Unfortunately my cries went unanswered.
Almost worse than the dinner hilarity — wine-tasting techniques, a cutely drawn diagram of a steak-divided moo-cow — though, is the sections of “Life After School Explained” that could actually be misinterpreted as helpful. Take Seminar Two: Love Your Money, for instance. It starts off innocently and accurately enough, of course; after all every graduating senior is bound to trip teeth-first into some fiscal hurdles at some point or another (after another, after another). The problem arises when “Love Your Money” gets carried away in its affections and begins discussing topics such as stocks, mutual funds, and mortgages. “One of the hardest things about buying a home,” the section reads “is saving enough for the down payment.” First of all: DUH. Second of all: A HOME!? A home is for people making nearly six figures and two and a half children a year, not for a penny-less, clinically depressed, recent college graduate surviving on generic brand canned soup and “Don’t Jump” self-help audio-book subscriptions. We live in rat-holes and sleep on air mattresses. If a mortgage was our biggest problem we’d be thrilled, but as it currently stands they are as much an abstraction as Freudian theory and more of a fantasy than Frodo galloping across the Hogwarts’ grounds on a god-damn unicorn. This is not life after school explained, this is life thirty years down a messy divorce and lay-off strewn road explained.
With all that said, however, I must admit that gesture is, at least, a thoughtful, if not misguided, one. Post-college is certainly uncertain and that is about all that can be said about it. No little pocket manual is going to lead you to the glistening oasis of success, nor can it prepare you for every little un-ironable wrinkle on the oversized discount polo-shirt of life. So with those cheery realities thus established, I suppose there’s only one thing left for me to do: Toss “Life After School Explained” directly to the bottom of the trash and hop some river-raft, freight train, or stage coach headed west. Escapist? Defeatist? Elitist? Whatever. A modern Huck Finn I sure as hell ain’t, but thanks for reading all the same.
Coleman Bentley can be contacted at