Illustration by Richard Goodwin

All of us will experience fear as we approach graduation. Whether it’s a small pang in
our chest or an all-consuming terror, we will all be nervous and afraid of what comes next.
Facing graduation is similar to standing at the edge of a wild forest. Your toes haven’t quite
entered the tree line. The canopy creates an eerie darkness inside and you fear what may be
lurking in the shadows. The frightening aspects of graduation can take many different forms.
Fear of not finding a job. Fear of not making enough income. Fear of not finding an apartment.
Fear of making new friends after college. Fear of not knowing exactly what your next step is.
Fear of failure. You are staring directly into the wild, about to take your first step into a great

Fearing the unknown is not uncommon — it is human. Sociologist Thorstein Veblen
said, “All change in habits of life and of thought is irksome.” Change is what we really fear. You
once feared change when you first transitioned into SCAD from high school. The prolonged
patience while awaiting an acceptance letter, the unnerving jitters before orientation, getting
lost your first day of class — your habits of life and of thought were disrupted in an
overwhelming manner. You went from the comfortable nature of waking up in your comfy and
familiar bed, in your comfy and familiar home to attend high school with friends and teachers
you already knew — until you weren’t. Instead, you were waking up in an unfamiliar dorm
room with an unfamiliar roommate and in some of our cases, an unfamiliar city. You woke up
that first morning at SCAD, fearing your first day of classes and the great unknown of college.

Yet, you adapted. You took that step into the unknown and found friends, success and a
new way of life. You got comfortable. But now, like many of us during our time at SCAD, you might
have been so consumed by homework and deadlines you have forgotten to plan for what
comes next. Too busy writing your thesis or crafting your final fashion designs, you don’t notice
graduation lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on its prey. But the moment you look up,
graduation is staring back at you. It’s there when you meet with your advisor and hear the
words, “You just have three quarters left!” It’s there even despite her peppy outlook on the
situation and a cheerful “Congratulations!” It’s there as your chest clenches and your heart
seemingly thrusts itself into your stomach. You call home only to be met with, “That’s great,
honey. Now, what do you want to do after graduation?”

“What do I want to do?” This question is one that will stalk you your entire senior year
and once again, you will feel as you did as an incoming freshman. Once again, you will be afraid
of change, of moving on. Because in order to move on, you must have something to move on
to. You must have a plan, or a place, or a job, or graduate school or some form of life goal.
The good news is you are prepared for anything after completing your degree at SCAD.
You can design and sew, or design and market, or design and write or any other form of
designing and creating. You have every tool you need in order to enter your chosen creative
field, as well as all of the connections. You simply need to pick a direction. Carl Richards, a
writer from The New York Times said, “I want us to be really clear that being scared is not the
actual problem … being scared is human, normal and totally OK The problem is when our fears
prevent us from making the quantum leap between what we want to do and actually doing it.”

Have you ever met someone who is seemingly fearless? The person who volunteers first
to give a speech in Communication, or the one who drops everything and moves to New York
on a whim, or maybe the one who walks away from graduation without a plan but seemingly
absent of worry. It’s annoying, right? How can they possibly not fear this life-flipping, world-
spinning, routine-ending change?

They do. They are scared, probably equally as scared as you are. Yet it is how they
handle this fear that sets them apart. As Richards said, fear isn’t the problem. Fear is a natural
human experience. The problem is how we chose to handle the fear. This is the difference
between being too scared to apply to your dream graduate school and actually sending in your
application. This is the difference between spending sleepless nights Google-searching for the
perfect job in New York City and simply packing a bag and moving there to figure it out as you go.
This is the difference between standing at the edge of the forest, wide-eyed and afraid, or
taking that first step into the wild. The secret to taking this step: handling the fear rather than
letting the fear handle you.

Illustration by Richard Goodwin

We must first know ourselves and understand what we are afraid of in order to handle
our fear and take our first step. The first thing you must do is identify what you are the most
scared of when it comes to taking that first step. It could be fearing failure, making the wrong
decision, not getting the job you want, not finding an apartment in your new city, and so on.
Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed with worry about what the future holds. Worrying about
something is an unproductive way to spend your precious time. Worry will not alter the future
in any way. Worry is simply wasted space in your mind, space that could be filled with things to
help you pursue your dreams. Instead, find what helps to alleviate that worry. If you know that planning helps ease your stress and your fear, then write out a calendar for the first few
months after graduation. You don’t have to follow this calendar exactly because life can change
in a second, but if planning eases your fear, then plan away. Or take the time to practice self-
care if that’s the most helpful to you. Take a bubble bath, read a novel or go to the gym.
Whatever helps ease your fears, do it when you start to worry about graduation. Then, instead
of your fear paralyzing you, you’ll be able to click submit on your graduate school application or
pack your bag for New York City or send in your resume to that dream job. You will be in control
of your fear and able to take your next step.

Once you transform your worry into action, it’s time to focus on maintaining control
over your fear after graduation. In the real world, life may become overwhelming. You will feel
your fear attempting to climb its way back up into your mind. How do you handle this new
realm of fear? The Harvard Business Review suggests keeping things familiar whenever possible
and “focusing on the important things; avoid change for the sake of change.” This advice could
be helpful if you plan to graduate and remain in Atlanta, maintain your part-time job or simply
retain any routine aspect of your life. Yet graduation sometimes means flipping your routine
completely upside down, especially when moving to a new city, leaving friends and family
behind and starting a new job. How can you maintain familiar aspects as much as possible? The
answer lies in the small details of your life. Think back to when you were a child and took your
very first big and scary step in life. Maybe it was taking the step to attend summer camp or
starting school and being away from your parents for the first time. You probably took
something from home like your teddy bear or a blanket. Whatever it was, it comforted you
because it was from home and it reminded you of the familiar. Feeling at home in a new place during life after college does not differ much from feeling at home during your first day of
school. All you need is something to remind you of home and bring you comfort. Decorate your
new bedroom to match your old one, take a candle that smells like home, collect letters from
your friends and family, hang pictures of them next to your desk and always continue to know
yourself. Go home after your first day at your new job and take that bubble bath you love, or
plan out your week because it takes away the stress, or simply call someone you miss. If you
know yourself, and take care of yourself, you can handle your fear without it handling you.

Even if you stand at the edge of the wild, doubting yourself and wondering if you have
what it takes, remember you have been brave before. You have already taken a step into the
unknown once, when you made the decision of which college to attend, went outside of the
norm and chose an art school, and moved away from home to go to SCAD. Now, as you face
graduation, don’t let fear of change hold you back from taking another step. Life is an extended
series of changes. Know yourself, handle your fears before they handle you, and embrace the
change. Before you know it, that frightening post-graduate world will be filled with opportunity
and adventure.