June 2011

Conflicting Jobs Outlook for College Graduates

May unemployment up, jobs numbers down, NACE report positive? What should college graduates believe?


There was a national groan as the employment numbers for May were released by the Department of Labor showing an uptick in unemployment to 9.1% and a growing number of individuals giving up on finding employment. According to the Associated Press, 42 nationally-recognized economists estimate that as many as half a million Americans have given up on finding employment since November. These kinds of doomsday reports figure significantly into the national perception of the jobs market, and can often become counter-productive in  and of themselves; a record number of college grads moving back with parents, employment close to 50% among new grads, record underemployment.

Four Years Later: Reflections Upon Graduation

Thoughts from someone who's tossed that mortar board
Well, I "did it". I "made it". I'm in the "real world" now. Doesn't feel any more real to me than the world I was in two days ago, but hey, milestones are milestones. There's certainly a weight off, a feeling of freedom. I never have to go to school again if I don't want to. That feels nice. 
The graduation ceremony itself was a little more like Mass than I expected. Lots of old dudes in funny robes repeating stilted phrases. There was even a choir. We humans seem to do ceremony in one very particular way, be it religious or secular. It was longer than church, though, and I had to wear a funny hat that kept falling off. I also almost didn't get my diploma because I was late to registration when I didn't know where to go (adulthood: some people are better at it than others). Our speaker was okay. My school doesn't like bringing in famous folk so some law professor talked at us instead. He talked a lot about the founding fathers. I wasn't really sure how it tied in to graduation, but I was also playing Angry Birds the whole time. Adulthood: it's what you make it. 
I don't really feel like I'm "the future" of this country, so I guess I'm glad we didn't get the cliche speech about that. There was a lot of talk about how we're better equipped to lead and succeed and whatnot now that we've gone through school. Personally, talk of leadership has always kind of irked me, because there are other things you can do with an education than manage the work of other people. I'm more of a rogue than a leader, really, and I'm very okay with that. Leadership depends on less powerful followers, most likely people who aren't as privileged or educated as you. So all the talk of "leadership" I've heard throughout my education has really just been about coming out on top of other people. I don't really need to lead or be led. I'd rather participate in a functional, noncompetitive community. I guess that's not a very American thing to say.
High-powered educational institutions always seem to have an air of elitism about them, and that's one of the reasons I was disappointed with the whole business of college. I did learn a lot by negative example. I suppose that's valuable in its own way. In terms of practical skills, I did come out a better writer than I went in. I'm going to try to pursue a career as a poet (I know, it sounds ridiculous) and my poetry has definitely improved exponentially from the stuff I was writing as a teenager. I still don't think I'm good enough to get in to the master's programs I'd like to attend, but I'm a hell of a lot further along. I had some great creative writing professors, both in poetry and fiction. I took some good classes. I read some good books. I probably would never have gotten through Ulysses without weekly quizzes nipping at my heels. 
They tell you that you should listen to your gut when visiting colleges and they're right. If you're walking around a campus and you just feel like you belong there, that's where you want to go. I felt it at a school that I didn't even end up applying to, opting instead for the more "prestigious" university. Don't do that. It's silly. Go where feels right. You'll learn more if you're happy. You'll make more meaningful connections with people. You'll come out the other end as a better person. I did make some great friends at my school. I just wasn't a fan of the student body as a whole--and that's important. Feeling isolated within a community isn't productive. Being on the defensive all the time isn't fun.
I think I'm tougher now, at least. I feel less smart but I'm probably just more aware of my limits. Breaking yourself down and understanding your capabilities is useful, even if it's harder than just having broad self-confidence. I'm more a believer in self-knowledge than self-esteem, although the former can certainly lead to the latter. Would I have "discovered myself" outside of college, too? Probably. Maybe in different, less safe ways. School is something of an egg for embryonic adults--it allows for security at the expense of freedom. You probably learn real life skills faster without it, but I've always been a procrastinator. 
So there we are. College: I've done it and it was okay. You don't have to go. If you go and you don't like it it's okay to stop going. You're a real person in the real world either way.