The College Graduate’s Conundrum

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When I graduated college, I didn’t think it was a big deal. To me, it was the inevitable end of five years of student loans, late nights, and part-time jobs. It was the light at the end of the tunnel.

I was surprised that so many people – strangers, even – congratulated me on something I didn’t even consider to be an accomplishment. I had never figured out exactly what I wanted to do. I had pretty much looked at the credits I had and picked the best-sounding option that would ensure a swift graduation.

I absolutely hated school. I did well and loved to participate in class discussions, but it angered me that both my parents and myself had to shell out so much cash in order for me to have a chance at success. It’s unfair that students doing what society tells us is the right thing are forced to dig themselves into debt for a brighter future. 

Yet the reality is that even the best students’ futures looks pretty bleak. Experts in our field that came to our senior seminars told us to expect 1-3 years of unpaid internships before we can land a job. Since the job market sucks, they suggested we work at a restaurant – the exact thing I’ve been doing while in college – in order to afford our student loans.

To my logical head, this is all bullshit. Unpaid internships is pretty reminiscent of indentured servitude – except that we don’t even have a promise of a job at the end of it. Going to college and living that lifestyle, no matter how much you struggle, is pretty awesome. But the ramifications of it are little more than social Darwinism; if you have a bachelor’s you belong in that category. We only hire people from that social pool.

Regardless of my feelings, I’ve come to understand that graduating college is a great accomplishment. I will have a brighter future in the long run, but my less-educated counterparts will win out financially for the next 5-8 years. Then I will leap ahead of those that don’t have an awesome skill/business/idea for the rest of my life.

But graduating college is an accomplishment with a lifetime of strings attached.  That piece of paper means that you’re supposed to have a lifetime of success; not excessive wealth, but some degree of it. You should have a relatively nice car, a relatively nice house in a relatively nice neighborhood with relatively well-behaved kids that will themselves go on to college.

As college graduates, these things are expected of us. When I visited my family post-graduation, the questions weren’t how are you? What classes are you taking? Instead, they were much less personal and more demanding. What are you going to do now? Do you have a job lined up? What happens next? The expectations are the fine print your professors never told you.

Although I do hope for a successful life, I also strive to break the mold. Unlike a lot of my classmates, I don’t have a plan for where I want to go, what I want to do, what firm/organization/company I desire to work for or who I want to become. I don’t have a solid plan in any way, shape or form. My only goal is to be as happy as possible in all aspects of my life. To travel. To explore. To write, whether it puts cash in my bank account or not.

In the quickly approaching job search, I hope that this optimism and focus on my own happiness, rather than pride or money, stay with me. I hope I have the strength to leave the job I hate to search for one that I love, even if it means resorting to eating ramen noodles for a month straight. That is what I consider the greatest gift  that graduating college entails; the ability and qualifications to never, ever settle. 

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