Graduation = Career?

BY CATHERINE DAUBENSPECK
Staff Writer
Published: April 3, 2008

As graduation nears, I’m being told more frequently that if I’m not going to attend graduate school this fall, I will need to get a job. “Like, a waitress kind of job?” I kid, failing at the hoped-for reaction. “No,” Whichever-of-my-elders says back. “A job with full benefits; one that pays for school loans, monthly rent, and a premium health insurance plan. Ultimately, a job that maximizes on the wage dollar.

As much as I find this answer reasonable, and I can sense the underlying concern, dollar maximization is problematic. For a person who has just graduated college, it almost explicitly implies corporate job, which implies joining up with the white-collar labor force of America’s bureaucracy, and 40 hours a week of creative nullification.

And yet Fordham seniors are ready for this. Many have been after it since freshman year. No doubt, the idea of a promotion, the acquisition of the corner office, or the title “editor in chief” as an emblem of life success makes happiness seem attainable. But to be frank, and perhaps harsh: that’s sad. If to graduate is to “finally be ‘free’,” what exactly does equating a paved corporate path with freedom free us from, besides the capacity to define our own idea of success?

I’d like to imagine it’s not too late; that Fordham seniors will graduate this May and neither enter giant corporations nor agree to do even one hour of mindless administrative work; that we will take no interest in jobs that maximize on the wage dollar or imprison us in tackboard unless they are jobs for creative progress. I’d like to imagine that every job the class of 2008 accepts will be towards restoring sensibility and sincerity to the forefront of existence; that we may even have the courage to leave New York altogether, rejecting the compromise of an environment where the standard of living corresponds directly to the advanced industrial pace.

As students we possess this power. We are still in school; we are still thinking! After graduation, we are capable of continuing to think, continuing the creative quest, and making sure we do not, in the job-search process, compromise our most important human needs (intellectual stimulation, personal values and the ability to perceive life’s meaning as that which transcends the economy).

Of course, for many of us, it will be difficult. In order to re-shape our present inclinations (taking paths already paved, doing as the majority of our peers do), we may have to do painful things. We will have to identify manufactured desires and  deny them. We will have to tell our parents no health insurance for a while is okay. Television, new gadgets, and Manhattan apartments?—we must disjoin with these things, rejecting the power they administer over our lives. We may be surprised how soon we stop referring to them as “needs.”

Just to clarify: the problem is not that we want to work. It is not that at 22 years old we’d like to pay our own bills and be more independent, or that we must do these things (and we must). The problem is that many of us, upon graduating, accept certain jobs as fact. We think certain jobs are necessary for the paycheck and the benefits, even if they affect us negatively in other ways. We consider these jobs to be the optimization of individual success, even though they ultimately say nothing about us individually. But perhaps most destructive of all is that in accepting these kinds of jobs, we deny the possibility of our present happiness. We let someone else tell us how to do things, we follow a lead, and attach ourselves, early on, to the tendency to think of the future as the only place where we can be “truly” happy.

But it’s a bad habit to always think of the future. We can have jobs now that nurture us, challenge us and contribute to society. It may be that to find these jobs we will have to leave the city, and in taking these jobs we may become poor. But in re-appropriating our values, we will find we need less money. In leaving the city, we may leave the tension behind. We may begin to live a life without a basis in instant gratification.

Over the next few weeks, as seniors are tempted to make rash choices about what to do next,  I maintain the notion that we may still self-realize without a plan of action, and that in calming down, refusing to settle, we become our own example for the creative life, and for the future epoch.