Books

'Post Grad' Takes a Hard, Honest Look at Life After College

Many recent grads will appreciate knowing that they aren’t the only ones struggling after graduating college.


Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College

Publisher: Ecco
Length: 320 pages
Author: Caroline Kitchener
Price: $24.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-04
Amazon

At the end of Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College, author Caroline Kitchener thanks the women whose stories she shared: “This book belongs, first and foremost, to the four women who let me into their lives and trusted me with their stories. Thank you for your honesty, your courage and your friendship.”

Kitchener is right. Anyone who is willing to tell their story in this fashion (authentic, intimate, and often brutally honest) and for reasons that don’t involve becoming famous or angling for a reality television show does deserve to be called courageous. Sharing successes is easy. Sharing failures is hard. And sharing insecurities, anxieties, vulnerabilities, and the personal worries that sometimes become all-consuming is perhaps even harder. These are the exact things Kitchener (and keep in mind she’s the fifth women referenced in the title) talks about in Post Grad.

As Kitchener notes, again, at the end of the book, “I felt more vulnerable -- more sensitive to criticism and judgment -- during my first year out of college than I’d ever felt before in my life." It’s at the beginning of the book, though, where Kitchnener states her reasons for sharing this year:

…I know the experiences of the women in this book won’t resonate with everyone. Almost one million women graduate from college in the United States every year, and I wrote about only five. But there is one thing I think will ring true for every recent grad who reads these stories; the first year out of college is a hard year. For me, it was the hardest year. It helps to know it’s hard for everyone else, too.

Kitchener might be selling herself a little short. While no book will resonate with everyone, she did write a book that should connect with many and perhaps even those who didn’t graduate in the past year or so. Certainly, many recent grads will probably appreciate knowing that they aren’t the only ones struggling and will also probably find it reassuring that even people who struggle often still end up doing remarkable things. Kitchener herself is an excellent example.

Kitchener is just a few years out of college but has publishing credits at The Atlantic and The Guardian and, of course, has had a book published by a major press -- she certainly could be seen as someone who struggled but who also succeeded professionally. Professional success, of course, is only part of the picture though. Much of the book is dedicated to relationships (or lack thereof) with parents, siblings, friends, and colleagues. The back of the book states that Kitchener is living in D.C. with her partner, so hopefully Kitchener is also doing well in this area.

Still, the audience might range beyond the one million women who graduated from college this year (although that certainly would be a substantial audience.) Early on in the book, Kitchener notes “Before I graduated, I wish someone had told me how difficult the upcoming year would be. But no one talked about it.” This book has lessons for parents and college professors as well -- people who might be able to help prepare students (soon to be graduates) for what is to come.

On the other hand, there are times when I wonder if Kitchener misjudges some of these one million graduates. This is particularly true in the beginning of the book, when Kitchener suggests that the pressure on recent college graduates from elite schools is especially challenging -- perhaps more challenging than what recent graduates from other types of schools face. I can’t help but wonder what college graduates from non-elite schools would say about that. Because I think all recent graduates face unique pressures and challenges, I was glad that this point seemed to fall to the wayside after the early chapters and that for much of the book the focus seems to be on five women who recently graduated from college -- not five women who recently graduated from Princeton.

The women Kitchener chose to profile also add to the relatability of the book -- it’s definitely a diverse group. Denise, for example, has lived in the United States all of her life, but her family is from Cameroon. Both of her parents went to college, and she’s planning on attending medical school. More than 40 of her family members and friends help her celebrate her graduation.

Alex is from the South and after graduation works in the tech industry with her brother. Her father is a Southern Baptist minister who told Alex, when she was a child, that AIDS was a good thing because it punished gay men and that he would never accept a gay child, that he wouldn’t want a gay child to hug him. Alex is a lesbian and seems to be looking for the security of a long-term, committed relationship.

Kitchener is the first four-year college graduate in her family, her parents are divorced, her relationship with her mother is complicated, and she has a serious boyfriend. She majored in history and gender studies. After graduation, Kitchener considers caving to parental pressure and taking the LSAT, but she also applies (and is accepted to) a teaching program in China. Her boyfriend Robert also applied and was accepted to the same program.

Michelle, who attends a music conservatory after graduation, and Olivia, who makes a documentary film after graduation, believes in sexual freedom and calls her lifestyle nomadic, round out the group.

The book follows these women -- through the good, the bad, and the painful -- until they reunite one year after graduation. In places, we hear their voices, but often it is Kitchener relating their stories, usually in strong, honest writing. In the end, one year after graduation, they meet, talk, reflect, think about what will come next, and realize, like most college graduates do, that the hard part isn’t over after the first year. It’s an enlightening journey, not only for the five women in the book but most likely for audiences, as well.

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