"So what are you going to do after you graduate?"
My fellow graduating seniors will no doubt be very familiar with the jaw-tightening, fist-clenching, eye-narrowing sentiments that inevitably arise when an undoubtedly well-meaning innocent asks us this particular question. After all, to them, we are the absolute best and brightest, destined for greatness, recession be damned.
If we're so great, then why is that question so devastatingly unsettling?
I've decided that it's not just the painful reminder that, no, in fact, I don't know exactly where I'll be in one month (let alone six). That's OK. Even for the most control-freaky among us, uncertainty isn't necessarily a reflection of us as budding human beings. It's not just the fear of not finding a job, either.
I am a queer person, and, as a white male with a college degree and an affluent background, one with considerable privilege. My education and common sense would indicate that I have been blessed far more than many people; my pride would preclude me from squandering all that I've been given. Therefore, when someone asks me that question, regardless of their intonation or their intent, I hear it as: "So. What are you going to do after you graduate?!" It's that "do" that sends me into a pathetic, defensive, sweat-inducing panic, as I try to come up with something I'm halfway OK with admitting. Is it not my responsibility to do something, like, important?
Like my classmates, I am entering a world that needs my help. But unlike many of them, I know firsthand what it feels like to be hated, to be shoved aside, ignored, stared at, pitied. As Editor-in-Chief of OutWrite, a progressive LGBT news channel, I help tell stories about injustice and pain and anger and utter hopelessness, about people I danced with at the club last year getting beaten up by frat boys on their walk home. How can I leave it to someone else to make it better?
Not everyone can be an "activist" -- at least that's what I told myself for a long time. I'd say, "I'm not the type who yells at the top of his lungs at nobody in particular, wildly waving a sign with a clever phrase that sums up his frustration with an oppressive society. I'm just not that kind of gay guy." That's how I justified my apathy. But as I continued rolling along, living my quaint little collegiate life, I found it harder and harder to ignore the fact that kids who looked like me and walked and talked like me were killing themselves after being called "faggot." It became harder and harder to live with the fact that I continually shut my eyes, ears, and mouth while people just like me, better and braver than I will ever be, were suffering. I began writing because I had a platform and a voice with which I could try to do my small part in making things just a little bit better for those who had no voice. I made a choice to be brave, to get off my ass and do something.
Now, weeks away from dipping my toes into the murky abyss of Real Life, I can't help but feel the pressure that comes with facing the choice between taking the "easy" road or finding a way to make a contribution I can respect -- only this time for real, for the rest of my life.
In struggling to figure out just what it is I can realistically do that means something in the grand scheme of things, though, I've found comfort in a very simple truth: It doesn't have to be a big, grand, flaming gay gesture. It doesn't have to involve yelling at the top of my lungs. It doesn't even have to be my job. It's about making a choice to be part of the change that is already happening -- however and whenever the opportunity presents itself. Whether it's standing up to the bigot at the bus stop, volunteering at a homeless shelter for gay teens, posting an article on Facebook about a recent hate crime, or simply making a commitment to be more conscious and aware of the issues affecting people like me on a daily basis, there is an endless number of things to "do." The hard part is making the leap, making the choice to be brave.
Follow Justin Sedor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/justinsedor