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Letter To A Graduate

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Dear College Graduate – Congratulations on your brand spanking new diploma! No matter where you go or what you do you will always have this accomplishment. You can never become a lapsed graduate or have your degree expire. There are few things like that in life so by all means bask a bit. No doubt you’ve heard a few rumblings about the job market and your prospects of doing better than your parents. Some speaker at your graduation (or older relative at your party) thought himself or herself insightful and wise to depress you with their opinion. You may have taken loans that have a looming repayment date. The thought of which may waken you in the middle of the night, the young adult version of a monster under the bed. This would be a good time to remember that with any luck, life is long and you’re going to be just fine. But there are some harsh realities that must be faced.

Uncle Don is right; the job market is different for you than it was for him. When he (and Aunt Joyce) graduated college, sometime during the heyday of network television and the invention of the answering machine (look it up) there was such a thing as “entry-level” jobs. A person could join a firm (that’s what companies were called then) at the bottom and work their way up. These jobs were plentiful as back then people did the work of machines. A mailroom in a large firm had to be staffed as emails and texts were sent in paper form and had to be sorted and delivered by people. Receptionists and switchboard operators did the work of automated phone trees. And secretaries did just about everything. In the finance world clerks and administrative assistants (which meant entry-level administrator before it became a euphemism for secretary) were an integral part of the pre-technology workplace. Back then Don and Joyce would have sent letters to dozens of firms and answered ads to get an interview with personnel (aka H.R.) During that appointment they would most likely be given aptitude tests and then placed within the organization according to their strengths. Once placed Don and Joyce would learn the ropes, distinguish themselves, serve their time and move on up or even out.

While technology is a wonderful thing, as is progress in general, and the new(ish) field has created jobs, it has also diminished an entire classification of jobs. Of course this phenomenon isn’t entirely new. Don and Joyce may remember their ancestors starting out as “office boys” or runners. There was a time when department stores (which ruled the retail world) were staffed with; counter help, salespeople, cashiers, wrappers (items went home wrapped in brown paper and string not in bags), elevator operators, restroom attendants, doormen, models, dressers, dressing room assistants…You get the idea. Department stores themselves are practically a relic from the past, let alone the diversity of employment opportunities. So yes, with each generation there seems to be a dramatic change in the employment tableau. But you and your classmates are also facing much more competition for the sparse opportunities. Many many more people go to and graduate from college today. Many more people borrow substantial amounts of money to do so. Don and Joyce knew little about that. Their friends went to schools they could afford. They might have worked their way through school, went on scholarship or went to state schools that were highly subsidized.

So great news, right?! Don was right to rain on your parade! Well not exactly. Challenging isn’t the same as hopeless. Tenacity is your best friend right now, that and humility and hard work. Be willing to do anything (that’s legal) and work like a dog. Put your head down and get it done. Knock on every door; don’t wait for anyone to do anything for you. You need to be your own manager and press agent. Style yourself and your profile to be attractive to an employer. Prove why you’re an asset, not why you deserve a job. Let go of any notion of a dream job, and embrace the concept of a job. Believe in destiny and really hard work and let go of fantasy. And once you get that job, and you will, treat it and others with respect. Go get ‘em.

Signed,
F.O.D. (Friend of Don)

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Childhood, Education

 

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A Letter To A Freshman

Dear Recent High School Graduate – Feels good to be done, doesn’t it?  That ’12 tassel looks kind of cute hanging from your rear view mirror/lamp/mirror/bookcase.  Take a long nostalgic look at it and then turn away.  It’s time to look ahead to a degree which done correctly will make your world as big as you want.  (‘The world is your oyster’, ‘the future is yours’, and every other platitude you read on those cash containers called greeting cards is actually true.  But happy endings are not a given and you need to be in the driver seat.)

You’ve already chosen where you will spend your freshman year.  (You may have chosen the absolutely positively most perfect place for you.  Great!  If that’s not the case however, keep in mind that transferring is always a very viable option.)  You probably have been hearing about the dismal employment prospects for recent graduates.  You may even have an older sibling who is living proof.  However you may have also been hearing from some friends or relatives of questionable maturity, that college should be above all else a social amusement park.  You may have even visited some colleges and universities that bear a striking resemblance to Disney U.  (Hopefully you chose the school that speaks to your goals not the one had the best rides.)  Unless you will never be expected to support yourself, ignore your friends and those relatives chanting ‘Toga Toga” under their breath.  In 2012 (“Yeah! Class of 2012!!”) a college degree should be a tool for job readiness.

To help you achieve that goal here are some key tips:

  • College is your job now.  Show up to class, be prepared and do a good job.
  • Before you choose a major look at job requirements.  Think about the industry or job that appeals to you and find out what course of study and/or credentials are required.  Speak to people in the profession.
  • Before you choose a major consider how far you want to go in your studies.  There are baccalaureate degrees that are meant to be a starting point in higher education and some that are meant to be the finish line.
  • Find the right adviser for you.  You’re paying for this experience.  If the adviser you’re assigned doesn’t work for you, find another, and even another if need be.  Good advising will open up the world to you and could save you from wasting time and money.
  • Get a job.  If it’s a requirement of your work/study package great, if not, go find one.  Even if it’s only 5 hours a week.  A college job will provide you a respite from student life/studies.  A job is also a good way to find out what you absolutely do not want to do.
  • Make a point of getting to know people entirely different from yourself.  (Remember this whole experience is about making your world bigger.)
  • Try something so not you.  Take a class you would never ordinarily consider (you can always drop it after one or two sessions.)  Attend an event that sounds ridiculous to you.  Volunteer for something odd.

You are about to learn so many new things; about the world and yourself.  It’s really just the beginning.  Life above all else is a learning experience.  Take the biggest bite possible out of the next few years.  Don’t worry too much about making any mistakes.  Embarrassing yourself in public or failing an exam or class doesn’t count as mistakes.  The only mistakes that really count at this point are those that limit your choices later on.

 

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Education

 

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A Place Of One’s Own

Do you remember hearing about people who kept an uncle in the attic?  Was that just my family?  The attic seemed to be where relatives who might not be entirely suited to living in society, were stashed.  You never hear these references any longer.  We could chalk that up to the demise of the cohabiting extended family, but I doubt it.  If there ever really were uncles up there, they’re long gone now.  The modern generation of uncles is more mainstreamed or perhaps people don’t have attics any longer.  The extended family does seem to still be cohabiting, but now it’s the adult children.  And they seem to not be in the attic or basement but be in their old room.

You’ve heard countless reports of adults in their 20s (or older!) living with their parents.  They don’t seem to be there to offer support to parents presumably in their senior years, but to live as they did as a teenager.  They live in the manner they’ve grown accustomed with; reliable climate control, plumbing, food, laundry, cable, wireless, and perhaps access to a car.  You’ve no doubt heard that unemployment is the cause of this phenomenon.  No doubt for some it is.  But there’s something else in play too, no?

Let’s think back, way back (cue flashback music and wiggly screen.)  There you are headed off to college.  You’ve got your new comforter, milk crate of albums, a hotpot and every stitch of clothing you own.  Maybe a parent drove you to campus.  If so they’re long gone by the time you start to unpack.  Those first few hours are filled with nervous meetings of roommates and suite-mates and a growing euphoria of having left home.  Yes, the university is nice.  Yes, the classes seem mildly interesting.  But YOWZA, you don’t have to live with your parents anymore!!!!  You go through the next four years jerry-rigging yourself into a major that will render you employable.

Ah the world of work and the demoralizing entry-level position.  You probably worked weekends, maybe even graveyard shift.  You’d stumble home to your apartment, careful not to wake your roommates sleeping on the couch.  You’d collapse in your bed, lucky to share an actual bedroom with just one other person.  Most nights you’d be too tired to boil up a generic hot dog or open a can of no-frill baked beans.  In the morning you’d wake up 10 minutes early to avoid the maddening crush of all your roommates fighting over the shower.  Our developmental milestones were measured in how many roommates we were able to discard.  Living alone was the ultimate brass ring.  I’m not so sure that’s the case any longer.

There is now more than one generation that has no familiarity with sharing a childhood bedroom let alone a bathroom.  Colleges and universities know this and have been churning out “singles” at an impressive rate.  There is also little romance now associated with being ‘poor.’  There have been too many post-Reagan decades for communes and ‘living off the land’ to hold any mystique for people under 40.  We all spend money in ways that would have floored our generic hot dog eating selves.  Bottles of water?  Cups of coffee for $5?  Electronics?  New cars?  It’s fair to say we considered making a long-distance call a luxury back then.

There are no doubt many young(er) people living with their (extraordinarily generous) parents who have simply had a bad run of luck.  They chose a path to a degree that they could afford.  They chose a course of study that should lead to employment.  They’re ready willing and able to share a garage apartment in the suburbs with three strangers.  But nothing has gelled for them.  They are cooking all the family meals, taking care of the home and generally making themselves an asset to their parents while they look for employment and housing 8 hours a day.

And then there’s everyone else.

There’s Brandon, whose parents paid his tuition entirely and set him on a debt-free course, only to have him drop in and out of the workplace.  He currently lives at his parents’ home while working on his web business, or saving up for a condo (home ownership is now a birthright by the way.)

Emma has college debt, some of it avoidable no doubt.  She eschewed starting at a community college and floundered a bit for it.  Her 4-year degree took 5 1/2 years, but she’s done!  Yes, $200K is a staggering amount of debt for anyone, but surely a dance major can find well-compensated work?

And then there’s dear sweet Madison.  She/he (who knows with a name like Madison!) worked her way through a school she could afford.  She applied for every grant, fellowship and scholarship and even got a free ride to graduate school.  Madison has a good job with a bright future.  She lives with her parents because it makes everyone happy.

Are unemployment rates high?  Of course.  Are students being trained in areas which have projected job growth?  Perhaps.  Has our culture changed radically in the past 20 years?  Absolutely.  That flashback you, bolting through the door of your parents’ home towards your own life is now quaint.  If you had been raised in the child-centric universe that exists today, you may have been less eager to jump into adulthood.  It would seem that the most important takeaway from the “more adult children are living with their parents” buzz is that it may very well not simply be the result of high unemployment.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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