The Millennial Real Life

I’m supposed to write about media here—journalism, twitter, and whatnot. Two days ago, though, I reread the late Marina Keegan’s viral (and humblingly elegant) essay “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which was published nearly a year ago by The Yale Daily News. Needless to say all thoughts of media criticism have escaped me.

It’s May. Commencement season. And for the first time, I’m not taking finals. For the first time, I’m really, truly on the other side of graduation in that weird void I—and everyone I know—once referred to as “real life.”

Millennials these days get a bad rep. We’re the young, the lost, the poor, the flaky, the politically cynical. (For what’s it worth, we’re also the tolerant, the hopeful, the educated. Like most generations, we’re contradictory generalizations it seems.) But, all considered, we’re doing okay out here in this thing called “real life.”

That term has always bothered me (even though I’ve used it my fair share). If we and the upper-registers of Millennials (who are hitting the early 30s) are only now living our real lives, what were we doing before? What were we doing in college? When did life become real?

For so many among us, life has always been starkly, unforgivably real. And between climbing student debt and an economy still struggling to find room for its least experienced (but most energetic) youthful contingent, life is only becoming real-er for many more. Economists and journalists the web-over have repeated again and again that these trends will affect us throughout our lives and careers, folding into what NYT columnist Charles Blow recently called the “overlapping traumas—terrorism and wars and recession” that have molded and filtered (in the instagram sense) our worldviews.

And so in the midst of commencement season and terrible writer’s block, it’s important to acknowledge to those jumping over the void from graduation into the rest of their lives that they aren’t leaping quite as far as they may feel. Rather they’re stepping more fully into the lives they’ve already begun, into the space the world for better or for worse has left for them.

That doesn’t make it easier. But standing on the other side of graduation—standing in that void—it’s not quite so lonely over here as some seniors might fear. As Marina Keegan put it, we’re not living so near our friends anymore. Sometimes they’re oceans away. We don’t live in the same bubbles anymore, but we’re still essentially who were when did live in them.

Keegan wrote of a sense of possibility, potentiality, of energy. We’ve still got that. It will be what carries us through crushing student loans, unforgiving recessions, wars half a world away and far, far too close to home. Millennials get a bad rep, yes, but I think we’re okay. We’ve gotten this far, haven’t we? We’ll take what life throws at us and move forward day by day. Real life, after all, doesn’t happen all at once.

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