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The 7 Stages of Graduation Grief

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The first sentence of my first blog for The Huffington Post was perhaps the most accurate description of my life at the time:
"When I wake up in the morning, I'm an editor-in-chief first and a student second."

So what's a girl to do when she wakes up one morning, post-graduation, and realizes she's neither of those things anymore?

Losing those labels meant losing a large part of my self and dealing with it would be a seven-step process.

First came Shock and Denial. Senior year was still "this year" when I talked about it at my graduation party and I referred to myself as a "UConn student," rather than an "alum." I continued checking my Huskymail daily and I talked about work and the newspaper in the present tense, as if I was still in the trenches. Few had the heart to correct me.

Soon after, I found myself pulling out lists of goals I had made early in the year and beating myself up over unfinished projects -- the Pain and Guilt stage. (I'd recommend you skip this one, if you've got the choice). I trivialized my accomplishments and looked for areas where I had missed opportunities to study harder, work later or aim higher. After just a few hours, I was sure that my reign, and my entire college career, had been a failure.

Since I'm not an angry person and I'm not prone to wistful thinking, I didn't spend much time in the Anger and Bargaining stage. But I do recall thinking, on at least one occasion, that I really could have stayed an extra year to add that minor and keep living the college life... Thankfully my better sense and the rising cost of tuition won out on that one.

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I leaned more toward the reflection side when I hit the Depression and Reflection stage, but I leaned hard. I looked through all the tagged photos of myself with staffers at Commencement, the year-end banquet and just hanging out in the newsroom. I tweeted out links to my first and final stories in the paper. I posted sappy Facebook statuses with hearts and emoticons and, yes, I cried.

And while I'm not sure if there are biological limitations of tear ducts, experience tells me you can only cry for so long. And that's OK, because the stage that follows Depression and Reflection is The Upward Turn, and that's the good one.

It was around this time that I realized how long I had gone without an early morning class or a late night phone call from the newsroom. "I haven't worn a blazer in 15 days," I remember saying, "and I'm still alive." I slowly started to realize that this wasn't the death of an identity, but an opportunity to create an entirely new one on my own terms. Finally, as this stage promised, things were looking up.

The Reconstruction stage gave me a to-do list, which put me back in my element. I updated my Twitter bio to call myself the "former" EIC, and I replaced all occurrences of "to present" on my resume and LinkedIn profile with actual end dates. Much to the chagrin of my friends, I updated the Education field on Facebook to include both my recent graduation and that fact that I'd start graduate school in July. I removed my EIC business cards from my wallet and ordered some snazzy new ones that identified me, quite simply, as a "journalist."

I'm not entirely changed. I haven't quite adjusted to the fact that I no longer need to sleep with my phone in my hand under my pillow in anticipation of a call from the publisher, the plate room or the circulation manager. I still edit everything I see, and I continue to laud the accomplishments of my former coworkers through Twitter RTs and FB link shares.

And while I've still got my mortarboard with The Daily Campus' nameplate proudly pasted across the top, I have no plans to wear it longingly like the Miss Havisham of the newsroom. It's hung on my wall where it belongs: a symbol of a past phase of my life meant for remembering rather than reliving. And that, my friends, is what they call Acceptance.