Holding Our Young Kings Up: Navigating Life Post-Graduation

Philip Wilkerson | 4 minute read

Holding Our Young Kings Up: Navigating Life Post-Graduation

Philip Wilkerson | 4 minute read

In my role as a career counselor in higher education student services, I have noticed that recently graduated, high achieving young men have difficulties adjusting to the world outside of their college campus experience. While this transition is always tough, COVID19 has put it in hyperdrive and the difficulty is magnified tenfold.

As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, I have the pleasure of meeting countless student leaders who did everything right! These young men participated in Student Government, applied themselves in work-study programs, and succeeded academically. But what happens when all that stops? As a mentor, I want to be thoughtful and purposeful in how I continue to be supportive of recent alums. Being able to label their post-graduation struggles helps me do just that.

Recently, I learned of a phenomenon called “Post-Graduate Depression.” According to the Washington Post article “There’s such a thing as post-graduation depression. I know: I had it,” Post-Graduate Depression causes extreme sadness and impaired functioning once the campus world is left behind. This is not an official diagnosis, but it is one that many college grads experience.

Moreover, in her blog post, “Post-Graduation Depression: The Struggle No One Talks About,” Onome Joseph offers several tips to help recent grads identify post-graduation depression and how to cope with it as they transition into the next phase of their life. One tip is confiding in someone “wise.” This is where we, as mentors, older friends, and trusted adults step in. Here are some of the ways we can help a recent grad who is experiencing post-grad depression.

Validate their feelings
Brushing them off or minimizing their struggles can cause more harm. Instead, be empathetic and validate the young person’s feelings. Let them know that it is ok to feel hurt or upset. Consider sharing a time when you experienced depression and how you dealt with that challenge. Doing so can provide space for the recent graduate to share their story. Just make sure that you are sharing to help the young man, and not just to vent for yourself. Use self-disclosure wisely.

Practice Acting Listening
Don’t go into problem solving mode right away. Just listen. Make sure the person confiding in you feels heard. Respond by paraphrasing what they’ve said to make sure you understand. Ask follow up questions as needed.

Be their cheerleader
Become their personal hype person. Celebrate their victories, large and small. Those dealing with depression may find it hard to see the small victories that will eventually lead to success. There’s where the outside perspective can be helpful especially if you have lived through a similar experience.

Help them develop short term goals
This is when the problem-solving hat comes on. Set up short term goals. One could be creating a resume. Others could be applying for jobs or starting a new hobby. Achieving each goal will depend on taking “next steps” along the way, so offer to be an accountability partner no matter what goals your mentee sets. Check in and support them by assisting with resource gathering. Setting and achieving goals will help the new graduate build confidence and adjust to life beyond the classroom. Here is where your coaching and cheerleading skills will be appreciated the most. Refer the new graduate to professional counseling.

Even mental health professionals should set boundaries and encourage the person you are helping to seek professional help. Create space for yourself to help that young person without taking on the responsibility of fixing their depression. Instead, help lower the stigma of seeking professional help. Create a list of mental health practitioners that you trust, especially if that referral list consists of clinicians of color. One great resource for finding a mental health professional of color can be found on this page.

COVID-19 has increased the challenges that new graduates face. As older men, we need to treat these young men as our little brothers, nephews, cousins, etc. Mentor them and guide them through this tough transitional period. After all, this is just the beginning of a whole new world. Help them recharge the same light they had as college rock stars! Help them discover that they can continue to be post college success stories.

Stay up BLACK kings!!!

About the Author

Philip Wilkerson works at George Mason University as an Industry Advisor for Media, Arts, and Design. He resides in Burke, Virginia. He is married to his high school sweetheart and father to two boys. He also hosts a podcast called Positive Philter which focuses on positivity and well-being in everyday life.

Pictured Student
Obum Egolum, Class of 2020
Bachelor of Science, Information Technology
Concentration in CyberSecurity
Minor in Business

Daniel Osei


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