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Dear Queen: An Open Letter To The Graduate Unsure Of What's Next

Dear Queen

Dear Queen:

You did it! The moment you envisioned, the one that felt like a distant dream a few years ago, has finally arrived. You are officially a graduate of a higher learning institution. Graduation time comes with several cliches. You will inevitably hear a speech about following your dreams. You will reminisce on all your experiences, good and bad, that led you to this moment. And a relative will gift you with Oh, The Places You'll Go. It all sounds nice and it's very comforting but after the pomp and circumstance, the anxiety sets in. What am I supposed to do now?

I remember my own graduation day perfectly. While I was excited to finally finish, I was also seriously uncertain about my future. Some of my peers had jobs lined up in big cities or even higher degrees to attain the following semester. But me? Nothing but a piece of paper.

I was more than uncertain, I was scared.

And I was jealous of everyone else who seemed to have it figured out. I kept thinking to myself, Shouldn't I have my sh*t together by now? Am I failing already?

Several years later, I realize that these feelings are totally normal. Even the ones who have it seemingly "figured out" will have doubts about their future. Now that I'm able to look back at that time, I truly appreciate my shaky transition into the real world.

As you venture into the land of adulting, there are several things you must remember:

You have all the tools necessary for success.

All that you need to survive and thrive in the real world is already within you. The past few years have prepared you to handle unexpected turns and obstacles. You already know how to be resilient, how to stand up for yourself, how to be a go-getter. Don't discount the many strengths your college experience has equipped you with.

Your first job out of school will not be your best.

The job of your dreams will more than likely not be your first - and that's okay. But it will be exactly the job you need at the time. Your first will be part of your story. Even if you hate it, it's an important chapter in your life because it will help ignite your true passions. Your first job teaches you what you really want out of life.

Related: Your First Job Won't Be Your Dream Job

Let go of the idea of instant success.

Personally, the most frustrating thing after graduation was realizing my degree in itself was not enough. For months, I applied to countless jobs without so much as a response. Hadn't I put in all the hard work? Hadn't I proven my readiness for a career?

After airing my frustrations out to my mom, she told me something I will never forget:

"You're so used to instant gratification and you have to realize life is not that way."

In school, if you study hard enough, you get an A. But in the adult world, there are million things that factor into your success. So stop resting on your laurels and remind yourself that success won't happen overnight. But it will happen in due time.

You won't have all the answers.

It's okay to not know where you're going or how you will get there. You will spend your whole life trying to understand yourself and your passions. You will realize that your education is hardly over but just beginning. Self-discovery is a ongoing process and you will continue to learn about the world and yourself on a daily basis.

Stop the comparisons.

Comparison is violence against the self. Another person's success has nothing to do with you and constantly measuring yourself up to others will only distract you from your purpose.

Put down Instagram. Stop checking Facebook. The grass is probably not as green as they're making it out to be anyway. Your journey is your own so savor every step it takes to get to your personal destination.

Don't limit yourself.

Have you ever had a dream so big that it scared you? Good. Now dream even bigger. It's easy to stay practical and do what you think is expected of you. But you're at a time in your life where risks are meant to be taken. Move to that big city. Travel to a foreign country. Take the job that will challenge you. Don't play safe, choose adventure.

Be present

It's hard not to preoccupy yourself with what the future may hold. But there is no time more precious than the present. You just did something only 30% of the population does. So bask in the moment! Congratulate yourself. Celebrate.

Of course, your degree is more than just a piece of paper. In all its lightness, it carries heavy memories. It carries the sleepless nights, the countless hours in the library, the tears shed over grades and boys and the distance between you and your family. It even holds the happier times such as the lifelong friends you made, the professors that challenged your way of thinking, and the crazy nights you will never forget.

Your degree is a physical representation of your growth, your power, and your journey.

If I had reminded myself of these things earlier and more frequently, I would have had a smoother transition into the real world. I hope that as you hold your degree, you are confident that you are extraordinary and that great things lie ahead of you. It's okay not to know what's next, but just know that the next step will elevate you closer to your goals.

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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