Graduation season is finally over. The fanfare, congratulations, and hopeful adages thrown around like confetti are slowly starting to be replaced by the quiet, creeping question – what’s next?
My college graduation two years ago was probably one of the worst days of my life. Sure, I was unbelievably hungover and convinced I’d never ever see my friends again. But most of all, I was overcome by the vast expanse of nothingness that loomed ahead – no job, no money, no place to live. That piece of paper everyone was congratulating me for was just a one-way ticket departing the land of security and stability, and hopes of ever returning were slim.
For the past five years, and probably the next five to come, nearly every graduate has had this same realization. Unless you’ve obtained a degree in Nuclear Mechanical Engineering That Will Save the World, or you’re one of those “legacy” fools whose dad’s connections will get you anything and everything in life (PS – you are the scum of the earth and deserve no other mention beyond that), you, as a degree-holding member of the Millennial Class, are freaking. the fuck. out.
And you’re pretty used to it by now.
No one’s denying that the economy is atrocious, employment prospects are slim, and the idea of a “dream job” is almost laughable. While the public dialogue has certainly shifted away from “shoot for the moon, even if you miss…”, not much has surfaced to replace it. I’m guessing the public is too preoccupied with their grocery bills and student loans to think about a dialogue, or maybe we’re all just too terrified of what the future actually looks like to come up with a new set of advice to hand off to graduates. What does a realistic, useful graduation speech sound like in 2012? What am I supposed to tell my students when they are considering colleges and career choices?
From my perspective – an insider’s perspective – I think the recession is helping us immensely. Maybe not in the immediate moment, looking through loan statements in your parents’ basement where you come home to every day from your shitty, low-paying job. But hear me out. For everyone who’s recently graduated with a (just gonna say it!) useless degree, we’ve had to become real-world educated really, really quickly. Not just the usual stuff like how to cook with a stove and clean an apartment. But the stuff you just have to do in order to make it in a world where absolutely nothing is given to you easily – how to work multiple jobs, how to live for cheap, how to continue learning new skills, how to be bold and take risks. And how to keep going when all of those things fail miserably.
I’m always amazed that, when things get desperate and it seems like there’s nothing to lose, people can be incredibly creative. I think the current economy is the perfect example; how many people do you know that work jobs that they never, I mean NEVER thought they’d be doing? Raise your hand if you’re one of them. Not to say all of these people like their jobs, but those jobs teach an entirely new and ultimately useful skill set, like it or not. And those who absolutely hate whatever out-of-the-blue job they ended up at always seem to come up with new, innovative ways to regain their humanness. (“Hey bro, you hate your job too? Nice. Let’s make a blog.”) When job prospects are so unbelievably abysmal, there is suddenly a lot of freedom and room for creativity. Again, how many people do you know that have traveled abroad, or done a year of service after graduating, rather than enter the hopeless throng of job-seekers? If there were companies handing out offers with salaries and benefits, it would seem insane to do anything else but accept. Instead, we’ve gotten really good at finding out what else we can do with our time and are left with an enormous range of experiences and skills that, if not forced to, we wouldn’t otherwise have acquired.
Somewhere down the road, in a land of rainbows and bright futures, the economy won’t suck anymore and we’ll actually have a choice in the types of jobs we accept. We won’t have to have fourteen roommates, six jobs, and ramen for dinner. When that finally happens, everyone who came of age and survived during the Great Recession will not only have multiple advanced degrees, we will have enough job experience and, more importantly, life experience than we will ever know what to do with. We will be better, smarter people that won’t make the mistakes of generations before us. Just imagine graduating college in the confidence of the roaring 90s. What did that do for anyone? Oh right, created an economic balloon that exploded and rained shit on everyone in the generation to come. Thanks guys.
So at next year’s graduations, I hope somebody says something along these lines: Hey guys. The next few years are going to suck really bad, but you’ll eventually get in Survivor Island mode and get through it. You’re going to do a lot of crazy shit – good and bad – and probably won’t be anywhere you’d thought you’d be. You’re going to get really tough and gritty and cynical. You’re going to be resilient and resourceful. And just like people do when times are good, you’ll manage to laugh at yourself and make the best of it. Your accomplishments will feel especially good and your failures will push you harder because you have no other choice. And because of all that, you’ll be awesome.