I imagine that college graduation ceremonies haven’t changed very much over the course of the past 100 years. Proud families fill the auditorium, Handel’s Nocturne in G Minor is played in a constant loop, and old men in funny outfits talk to young people in funny outfits about the future that lies ahead of them. Much is said about the pride the oddly dressed neophytes should be feeling; the years of hard work, the breadth of their accomplishment, the pride that must be theirs to have completed the studies in their chosen fields…etc. Then, after much pomp and circumstance, the graduates file out of their assembly with their degrees (with all the right, privileges and honors pertaining thereto) conferred upon them.
In my limited experiences with college graduations, I found this to be pretty much standard operating procedure. However, I found something to be missing at my ceremony this May. As I stood huddled in a parking garage under the Liacorus center with the rest of the eager graduates I overheard a lot of conversations regarding the future. There was a lot of talk about graduate school, a good amount of “I can’t wait to travel through Europe” conversations, and even a few “I’m not doing anything this summer” remarks. The one thing that was conspicuously absent was any remarks of pride or relief. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I started to search for jobs, it occurred to me why this was.
Simply put, graduating college with an undergraduate degree is not the accomplishment it once was. There are innumerable jobs that require Master’s degrees before they even require work experience, and you’d be hard pressed to find a place of employment (outside of a low level marketing job or retail job) that requires anything less then a BA and there is virtually nothing that requires only a BA without prior work experience or additional qualifications. That’s nothing new though. The undergraduate degree has been the new High School Diploma since before I entered college. What I find particularly disturbing is the fact that we can go through four years of fairly grueling academic study, and not feel a profound sense of pride and joy.
When a college graduate enters the world, there is no longer a sense of joy. People who have been conditioned to view themselves as students are thrust from the cozy familiarity of college to the grind of the working world. These students might have complained about term papers, or getting up at 9 am for a class, but the truth is that when all was said and done they prefer college over pretty much any other situation. There is no other time in life where such an expanse of possibilities lay before you, yet you can still be cocooned in a circle of friends and free housing, sequestered from the financial obligations of the real world. No term paper frustration can match the horror of haggling with an insurance company over the phone. And waiting for your grades to appear online isn’t nearly as tense as navigating the job market.
So what’s the point? Why belabor the trials and tribulations of the college grad, or belittle the accomplishment of graduation? It is because as a new generation of worker bees enter a job market that is particularly hostile, they may not know why they aren’t as excited as their parents and loved ones. After years of schooling that were supposed to lead them to the next stage of their life, they might feel strangely unprepared for the reality that awaits them. Not because they were uneducated or unaware, but rather because it was presumed college would give them the tools necessary for the real world. Instead, they’re finding out that education continues well beyond the classroom.