Failure to Launch: How It Feels to Graduate Right Now


As a writer, I love literary essays. I’ve spent my senior year obsessing over the essay “The Opposite of Loneliness.” If you want to know what to read during quarantine, I say read that. Then read it again. If you’re graduating, read it until those words imprint on your every fiber.

“The Opposite of Loneliness” was written by Marina Keegan in 2012. It was the last piece she ever wrote for the Yale Daily News, and published the day before Yale’s commencement ceremony. She was graduating, magna cum laude, with a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Her essay went viral, getting more than one million views in the following weeks and months, albeit for the tragic reason that Keegan passed away in a car accident not even a week after her graduation.

I’ve thought about Keegan and her essay a lot over the past year, not because she’s gone, but because her words were the only ones I’ve ever felt perfectly capture my experience at Colgate. She wrote, “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale.” The opposite of loneliness is exactly how I feel at Colgate, and Keegan found the right way to say it. 

I’ve also thought a lot about the parallels between me and Keegan. Both young women at liberal arts colleges, trying to find their ways as humans and writers. Both graduating in election years, though 2012 was rather tame compared to the circus of 2020. For the most part, it seemed our lives weren’t all that different.

Now, two months deep into a global pandemic and sheltering with my family far away from the college life I cherish, I feel the distance between Keegan and I growing. She graduated full of hope, for herself and her classmates. She writes one line repeatedly: “We’re so young.” It was to remind everyone graduating of the truth: that we’re all twenty-somethings, with our whole lives ahead of us, and the world is our oyster, as the saying goes. Keegan wanted us to know that it’s never too late to take a chance, that this sense of opportunity doesn’t have to disappear just because we’re leaving this beautiful campus where we feel the opposite of loneliness, all of us together.

It’s so hard to feel that hopeful right now.


Graduating from college is a hallmark moment in American life. It’s one of the few formal rights of passage we share as a collective culture. Sure, at 16 you can drive and at 18 you can vote, but for whatever reason, it’s the day you don the cap and gown and walk across the stage, diploma in hand, for all the world to see that your adult life really starts. You can see it before your eyes the very next day, as friends pack up their apartments to move on to new cities, new jobs, and new schools for new degrees. The you who showed up to move in four years ago wasn’t ready for the limitless possibilities of adulthood, with all its responsibilities and 401k’s and taxes. But graduated, finally, now you are ready to launch.

Sitting on my couch in the same sweatshirt I’ve worn for a week, my cap and gown delayed in the mail, graduating during COVID-19 feels like nothing short of a failure to launch. 

I should note how lovely friends, family, faculty, staff and administrators have been, all the sweet displays of compassion and make-up celebrations being planned. Hell, even the local business owners in Hamilton are heartbroken for the class of 2020 –– I know because they told me. 

I saw recently on Facebook a third grade teacher asked her students to write letters to college graduates. They wrote little bits like, “My name is angel and i know that your sad but you are smart and it is ok,” and, “you can celebrate with your friends and family because you are always can do what you want to do and you will do it you just need decorations and a cake or cupcakes and you will have a graduation party i hope you have a fun and nice party bye bye.” 

One little girl offered some rather practical advice, “Another thing that you can do is buy a thingy hat that you wear in graduation celebrations and you can wear it when you’re doing the party in your house.” I suppose she’s right; I can wear my thingy hat at the party in my house.

I cried reading the words of nine year olds, then laughed through my tears because nearly every submission mentioned cake, cupcakes, pizza, or all of the above. Children really are of a one-track mind.

Unfortunately, as much as I’ve tried I haven’t found closure in a pizza box. This “failure to launch” feeling isn’t just because I’m missing out on the fanfare of commencement and all the cake that comes with it. It’s almost beyond words –– the last two months of traditions, sunny spring weather, saying goodbye to beloved professors and late nights spent with friends, just talking. It’s the walks to class I would’ve taken as a moment to reflect on four years of growth, weaving through the pedestrian traffic on the academic quad and peaking into the third floor East Hall window that once belonged to me. It’s the chance to come to peace with moving on, the chance to relish what I had while I still had it. The free pass to be sentimental in those last few weeks.

It would be easier to move on if there were something to move to. For so many of my friends and peers, people who in a normal year would be securing jobs and apartment hunting in Manhattan this summer, the new normal is jobless in their parents’ basement. The friends whose offer letters I once seethed silent jealousy for have since had their employment revoked or delayed. Whatever cohort you’re in, it sucks. We’re graduating into the worst job market in history.

Which really brings us to the crux of the matter. The exact moment we’re meant to celebrate our arrival into adulthood, supposed to start new lives away from home and financially independent, we’re landing utterly back in square one. 

Many of my friends shared with me fears of reverting to their former selves, and by former I mean high school. The general consensus appears to be that no one likes that version of themselves; it’s too angsty, too annoying, too insecure, too boring. I, too, worry about regressing. We’re worrying with reason –– the last time we spent an indefinite stretch at home, the last time we had to do homework under our parents’ watch, we were these other selves we worked so hard to change. We don’t necessarily know how to be our better selves in this home environment. We’re trying to adjust to being the college students we are in the setting of the high school students we were. I leave my house to go on runs, passing my high school along the way. Shuddering, I remind myself I’m no longer the girl who wore hot pink matte lipstick with her braces. At least I hope so.

In the last two months, everyone and their mother has tried to impart some kind of comforting wisdom, some sense of hope, on the class of COVID-19. Honestly, though, I don’t want to hear it from them. The only people I really care to hear from are my fellow graduates. And because I’m a sentimental sap, and I won’t get to see you all anytime soon, I’ll say this: friends, acquaintances, weird kids who always tried to prove professors wrong, lacrosse players who forgot my name multiple times, this isn’t how we wanted to say goodbye. We wanted to end our time at Colgate with one last late night slice, a questionable rash from jumping into Taylor Lake, and a walk down a brightly-lit Willow Path. The veritable state of the world isn’t conducive to being ourselves right now; staying in with your parents is the absolute antithesis to being 22, confident and energetic, which we all are. For playing a role in my life the last four years, thank you, I miss you and I love you. Because I know the kind of people we all are, I know that when this ends, bursting with energy we will grab life by the balls and take it for a ride. Because Keegan was right –– we’re so young. And we’re so much more. Fun, bright, brilliant, creative, and resilient. We wouldn’t have made it through four Hamilton winters had we not been all of those wonderful things. 

I’m excited to see where you all go, and to cheer you on along the way. We’re weathering something terrible together, with so much left unsaid and loose ends left untied. Whenever we come together again, for the rest of our lives, whether it’s at a reunion, or a wedding, or a random city bar, I know we’ll make up for the difference. I can’t celebrate with you now, but someday soon (or otherwise) we’ll be together again and the opposite of loneliness is how I’ll feel.

For now, we’ll be observing virtual graduation on May 17, and to that I say I hope you have a fun and nice party bye bye.