I spent most of today attending a graduation party for my cousin, Chelsey, about three hours away from home in my mom’s hometown of Ozark, Missouri. In a weird case of cosmic timing, she graduated high school on Friday just under a week after I graduated from college. It’s interesting that even though she and I are about four and a half years apart in age, our educational paths are intersecting for just a brief moment in time: I’m leaving college just as she’s about to enter it. Our lives are moving perpendicularly, intersecting for the briefest of times before moving in opposite directions.
It almost doesn’t seem possible that I was in her shoes this time four years ago: just graduating from high school and getting ready to begin college in a few months. I remembered back to how strange it was to be surrounded by so many family members and friends, celebrating as if you’d just been born; suddenly brought into the world after gestating for a long time in a small environment. Everyone is so happy and hopeful for you, showering you with gifts and advice for the college years ahead. It’s the first time I felt like an actual adult, knowing that I’d be on my own in a few months, away from my family. Finishing high school felt like a major victory, because I knew that with the first thirteen years out of the way, the next four would be far more enjoyable, exciting, and enriching. At high school graduation parties, you feel infinitely special. The only questions people ask are “where are you going to school?” and “what are you going to major in?” And while it gets old answering these questions after awhile, you never completely tire of it, because thinking about it excites you.
Unfortunately, the questions people ask after you graduate college are much more annoying and a lot less exuberant. Within five minutes of entering my aunt and uncle’s house, I was faced with probing, personal questions about my post-graduate life:
- “What, exactly, is your degree in?”
- “What are you going to do now?”
- “Are you planning to teach with that degree?”
- “How much in college loans do you owe?”
- “Why are you moving to New York?”
- “What’s your financial situation?”
And so on and so forth. I have to admit that I brought a lot of these questions on myself the minute I decided to get a degree in musical theatre and become an actor. The majority of my extended family all have extremely practical jobs from construction to business to teaching. A few of them have dabbled in something artistic, but none of them (except for my uncle and my parents) ever actually thought of pursuing an artistic field professionally. I was reminded at LEAST four times today that “times are tough” and the “economy is terrible.”
I often feel I have to defend my career choice (among other things…like my political leanings) to my extended family who doesn’t always seem to see much validity in going into an impractical field like acting. They, like many people, think we should be financially responsible for ourselves and that means working a job that will more easily support us. I won’t lie that the financial side of acting scares me, because I know paychecks may be few and far between, but I would rather struggle and be happy than sell my soul to earn a billion dollars just to be completely financially stable. I also keep reminding them that acting is a tough profession no matter WHAT the economic situation. There will always be too many actors and too few acting jobs, and that’s just a reality of the profession, but that’s part of what makes it special, selective, and exciting.
I love my extended family, but they will never totally understand why I want to do what I want to do. As I tried explaining my plans to them about moving to New York (auditioning, getting a temp job, etc), they just smiled and nodded as if they were being understanding, but I knew that nod was simply to appease me as if to say, “I love you, that’s nice and all, but I just don’t get it.” And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t need everyone’s approval of my life to know that I’m doing what’s right for me. As long as I have their support, whether they understand my choices or not, that’s all I really care about.
It’s so weird how differently people treat you when you finish high school than when you finish college. You never think four years changes much, but really, it changes everything. I guess that’s something Chelsey will find out in four years time. For now, I’ll just let her enjoy her cake and graduation gift cards.