[Originally published June 14, 2012.]
You wake from a deep sleep to find the world eerily quiet except for the faint song of birds and the whistle of the wind. You walk out of your room. Your roommate isn’t home. His room is empty, save for a bare mattress and a dog-eared GRE study guide. You step outside and find the streets deserted. You pull out your phone to see if some catastrophe has occurred. Disease? Neutron bomb? War? Are you left alone in an evacuation zone? You see Facebook is still abuzz with activity, but all of your friends are posting about how much they hate finals. “These people graduated college years ago…” you think. A scrap of paper blows down the street like a tumbleweed and lands on your leg. You look at it: an admissions letter from the NYU creative writing MFA program. Then it hits you. You are the last human left on Earth. Everyone else has gone to graduate school.
You start walking down the street, peering in windows, but no one is there. You break into a sprint, shouting for anyone to hear. Abandoned cars sit in the road, still idling. A bicycle lays on a patch of grass, its front wheel still spinning. Someone must be here. Someone must not be in grad school.
The grocery store is empty. All the cashiers are in American Studies programs. The lights flicker on and off. The electric company has been abandoned with all the engineers getting MAs in semiotics. Soon everything will crumble around you. Who will run the world when the entire world is in graduate school? You grab whatever canned goods you can and run out of the store.
It must be a dream. You can’t be the only one left. You’d heard your friends talking, saying that master’s degrees are the new bachelor’s degrees, saying that they really wanted to go back and really learn something from school and not waste it like they did during their undergraduate work. You rolled your eyes, confident that you didn’t need an advanced degree, that getting a graduate degree in film, comparative literature, or acting would just be stalling.
But now you are alone, without anyone in the world, just your thoughts and whatever food you can scavenge, while the lights burn bright and warm at Fordham, at Berkeley, at Iowa State. Somewhere over the bleak, silent horizon are millions of people getting MAs, MFAs, and PhDs. The traffic lights flicker to black. The sun begins to set. A coyote howls, sounding much too close.
You see a group of people walking ahead of you, casually strolling. Are you hallucinating? Could it be you are not alone? You run up to them, shouting, praying they will turn around and tell you that you are not the only one, will offer to take you into their warm homes and explain away this madness. They turn slowly and you stop, jaw agape. They have strollers before them and Baby Bjorns strapped to their chests. Patches of vomit drip down their shirts. They look at you with weary disinterest. You are the only person left on earth not in grad school or without children. You run.