I was reading the Sunday paper, trying to wind down before I geared up for the last full week of school when I noticed Meredith Raimondi’s editorial essay entitled I’ve Got That Cap and Gown. Now About That Job…
After four years at George Washington University, I expected that my life would magically come together. I was aware that we college graduates often struggle to figure out what to do, but now we're struggling just to find employment.
Note to Meredith: We told you from the time you were in kindergarten “Set you sights high, work hard, and you can be anything you want to be.” Our intentions were good. We wanted you to understand that ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background did not limit your options as it had for some of us. Somehow we got carried away or were misunderstood and that message morphed into “ If you set your sights high and work hard, you get to be whatever you want to be.” We should have made this part a little more clear. We didn’t mean to mislead you, but the truth is there is no magic in a diploma --you get a chance to try, not a promise to be.
I went to college with dreams of working on government policy, writing for a newspaper or serving on a bioethics committee. Who knew that the economy would go into crisis while I was in college? After sending what seems like my millionth résumé and cover letter, I am realizing that I might need to go back to school sooner than I expected.
Note to Meredith: Graduate school will not fix this. It will postpone your entry into the job market; give you none of the experience that most job postings mention; raise your starting salary expectations; and put you deeper into debt. If you do go back to school, consider specific job skill training in a technical field. That’s where the jobs are.
Another option is an unpaid internship, which is rather unrealistic for anyone without a trust fund. Unpaid internships do offer great experience -- I worked for the Special Olympics -- but unfortunately they do not always lead to a paying job.
Note to Meredith: The reason that you cannot count on an unpaid internship to lead to a paying job is because there is always another bright, ambitious young person such yourself looking for an internship who is willing to do the job you’d like to have -- and do it for free. During the summer between her junior and senior year in college, my own daughter managed to land a paid internship with one of the better known historical sites in the country. She loved the work, and they loved her work, and when she graduated they offered her a job--at the same pay as her internship, which was about what she would have made working at a fast food restaurant. A friend’s son had a masters in archeology who worked for the same folks. They offered him the same deal--less than ten dollars an hour, but a “wonderful opportunity to build his resume.”
Among my friends, the few who have jobs next year have joined Teach for America, which is ironic because people mock humanities degrees as only being useful for teaching. The starting salary from Teach for America is higher than anyone I know with a full-time job right now.
Note to Meredith: How ironic that young people who seek Ivy League educations because they supposely value learning might see a course of studies that would prepare them to spend a career helping others to learn as something to mock. At the risk of sounding self righteous and a little prickly (and maybe I’m misreading your intent), you didn’t get where you are without teachers. It’s really not the job of last resort, and the pay and perks aren’t bad. But I hope your young friends chose TFA because they realized they might have missed their calling, not because “the job market is bad” or they are “just too burned out to do graduate school right now.” Children deserve teachers who want to be in the classroom rather than people who really just couldn’t get a job doing anything else.
I thought that once college ended, all of my dreams would come true. Well, I'm not giving up yet because, as I learned in a book given to me at my high school graduation, "The Impossible Will Take a Little While." I guess it will just take a little longer than I expected.
Note to Meredith: I’ve checked out “The Impossible Will Take a Little While.” Thanks for the recommendation. Loeb affirms what I believe when he writes,
My primary focus is on what moves us beyond mere personal survival, beyond carving out a comfortable private existence—to broader, more enduring visions that can help us tackle common problems and keep on doing so regardless of the frustrations we may encounter. We can’t afford the sentimental view that mere self-improvement, no matter how noble in intention, is enough. Nor can we afford to succumb to fear.
In many ways it sums up why I chose to teach and while I still choose it as a career. It is my vision of how we can make the world a better place. And by the way, I’ve discovered that it’s taken a little longer than I expected, too. After 27 years in the classroom, I’m still working at it. And while I have not single-handedly changed the world, I still believe it’s worth the effort to try to change a little piece of it.
I hope you find a job you love, and if you don’t, I hope you learn to love the job you find.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might...” Ecclesiastes 9:10
The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.