The Beginning of the Rest

In the early hours of Monday night I submitted the final assignment of my undergraduate degree. And it was possibly one of the most pure moments in my life to go unnoticed.

It was 4:16am exactly. All the words of my research paper had started to blur together on my screen. I’d read the word ‘proportionality’ so many times I was starting to question if it was even a real word. I had thirty tabs open across two different browsers. I was on my third energy drink when the recommended daily intake is two. I was a total mess, and it was a familiar feeling.

Then I hit submit. I hit submit for the last time, and I simultaneously felt everything and yet nothing. Nineteen consecutive years of navigating my way through the NSW education system had finally left me here: hunched over my laptop in bed, somehow yawning with exhaustion and yet shaking from the excess caffeine. I’d finally reached open water. It was exhilarating, satisfying, and just a little bit terrifying.

Everyone in the house was asleep, so there was nobody physically present to share the moment with. No point calling my parents, who sleep so early I’m starting to suspect they are afraid of the dark. Nobody was online except me to care about my research paper on the culling of pest animals in NSW. Or my degree in general, really. It was just me and the moment.

It was only a moment. A moment that filled me up and then emptied me just as quickly. For the last nineteen years I have been Jessica Sheridan, student. That’s the answer I put on every form I fill out at the RTA. Every time someone asks me what I do for a living. Every time I walk into the bank and speak with a teller who wants to charge me higher fees. Every time I go to the movies or shop online at ASOS. Why am I still living at home, you ask? I am student.

And what am I supposed to do with all this student-based knowledge? All these suddenly seemingly useless skills? I can write a research paper like nobody’s business. Essay plans? Sorted. Thesis statements? Too easy. Hypotheticals? In the bag. I was a seasoned veteran, taking down take-home exams and using the word ‘juxtaposed’ in the appropriate context. I guess some of these skills will prove to be transferable – or so they keep telling me – but it still feels as though it’s all been used up.

This is it. This is the end.

Or rather, the beginning. The beginning of the rest. What that means, I haven’t yet decided. It could mean the start of everything else – a grandiose and epic journey as I chase my passion for writing and my dream of saving the world. It could mean the next chapter of my life as I enter the workforce and find myself a new word to write on all those RTA forms. It could mean a literal rest – a break from life to decompress and maybe read one of the many unread books on my bookshelf. I haven’t yet decided.

When you’re young people always ask you to draft out what you want to do with your life. And everyone always answers with something similar, like a fireman or a hairdresser or maybe even a cat. Then you get a bit older and you start to entertain different ideas, changing your answer to things like doctor or actor or journalist. Then at the precipice of adulthood they ask you to submit a final copy of your life plan along with your university application and/or CV for full time employment.

And that’s crazy, isn’t it? I’ve been a student for nineteen years, and I am still not sure if I’m ready to submit a final draft. I’m not sure I would even be happy to settle with just one submission. There’s just too much in this world that I want to be.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. All I know is that I am no longer Jessica Sheridan, student.

I’ll try and figure it out sometime.