Craving College: Recent grads find themselves longing for the student life
By MARTHA IRVINE, AP National Writer
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
October 18, 2004
Call it college nostalgia, those pangs felt by any number of young working stiffs who long for the days when they could roll out of bed and into class or hang with friends any night of the week, at any hour.
Russin Royal knows all about the feeling, particularly at this time of year, when campus life and football season are well under way. It's what brings him to a Chicago bar that caters to him and his fellow University of Texas alums - where they can sing "The Eyes of Texas" with unabashed enthusiasm and down a Shiner Bock, the beer they drank in college.
"It's a connection to your past - like something you want to hang on to and not let go of," says Royal, who is 26 and admits to having both license plates and a pair of shoes that feature the "Hook 'Em" battle cry of the Texas Longhorns.
"I think I own more Texas paraphernalia now than I ever did when I was in college," he says.
For him, hanging with other "Texas Exes," as they are known, has been a way to find community in a big city. Others, like Joe Curry, end up living where they went to school, allowing them to keep the ties particularly strong.
Curry graduated from the University of Minnesota last year and still lives in Minneapolis. He regularly takes the "scenic drive" through campus on his way to work and often organizes dinners and "breakfast club" reunions with former dorm mates who also live in town.
He has also decorated his apartment bathroom in Minnesota Gopher maroon and gold.
It might sound like a bit much, especially to those who never went to college or, if they did, didn't like it. But a professor who studies human habits says that craving the life of a student is pretty normal, even many years after college.
"If I had my way, I'd be a college student the rest of my life," says Robert Billingham, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Indiana University.
"There's a lot to miss," he says. "You don't have so much freedom in the work world. So for a lot of people, it's a big shock - the expectations and accountability. All of those things are just a real bummer."
Maria Pendolino knows what he means. As she puts on her business suit and nylons each weekday morning, the 22-year-old finds herself looking "longingly" at the flannel pajama pants and hooded T-shirts she used to wear to class.
"I miss a lot of little things - naps, sleeping in until noon and the feeling that you are in the same place in your life as everyone else," says Pendolino, who graduated earlier this year from Binghamton University in New York and now works in the finance field.
"In college, I was a big fish in a little pond," she says. "Now I'm a guppy in the ocean."
Angela Yarbrough also has found frustrations with the new rules of life, post-college. Sometimes, she says, she would like to raise her hand to disagree with her boss (as many professors would have encouraged her to do). But she has learned that keeping quiet in the workplace - with bosses and fellow employees - is often best.
"You don't want to be the topic of the water cooler," says Yarbrough, a 21-year-old who graduated from St. Mary's University in San Antonio last year and now works for an image consultant.
It can get so overwhelming that Lindsay Fowlston, a New Yorker who recently graduated from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, thinks schools should offer a class called "Real World 101." Some of her suggested topics: how to search for an apartment; learning the difference between a 401(k) and an IRA; office politics; how to make friends at work; and how to maintain relationships and friendships after college.
It's true that making the transition from college to work can make you feel as if you have "landed on an alien planet," says Alexandra Levit, the 28-year-old author of "They Don't Teach Corporate in College." She, too, was faced with having to figure out the notion of networking, office bureaucracy and the value of "face time" with the boss - all things that many new college grads resist, she says.
That may be so, says Gabe Cahill, a 27-year-old investment banker who lives in Chicago and graduated from the University of Notre Dame. But he says most people adapt, eventually.
"To me, Notre Dame was a blast. But your 20s are much more fun," Cahill says. "You have money and time to enjoy it." Royal, too, is learning to appreciate life after the University of Texas. Sure, he misses his days on campus - taking a date to home football games, a Texas tradition; breaking open a bottle of champagne when he and his friends all got their first jobs; and spur-of-the-moment road trips, including one 2 1/2-hour trek to Houston, just to eat at a favorite waffle house.
"But I still wouldn't trade it for now," he says, smiling. "I think being out of school is a different kind of good."