A few weeks ago I went to my friend’s graduation. I’m one of those people who tends to cry at everything. I can’t even watch 95% of the commercials they air these days without a box of tissues on hand. So I warned my friend that I’m probably going to tear up at some point during the ceremony. Graduations can be an emotional thing and I just knew one of those speeches was going to get to me.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sadness was the last thing on my mind. If I was going to tear up, it would have been from laughing so hard. I laughed at most of the speeches. It was either I laugh or scream with rage. Anger. That’s the emotion I felt the most during the graduation ceremony.
I graduated from college over four years ago. I owe a ton of money from student loans that I haven’t made a dent in. I am incredibly underemployed. It turns out I am way too cynical and jaded to buy into what many of the graduation speakers were saying. If I had a dollar for every time I rolled my eyes, I’d probably be able to actually make some sort of dent in my student loans.
Every speaker spoke as though armed with a college degree, the graduates were now set for life. The world is a land of opportunity and nothing will get in their way now that they have a bachelor’s. I really wonder if the speakers believed the nonsense they were spewing or if they just decided to say what people wanted to hear.
A few of the speakers were alumni from the college. They graduated 30-40 years prior. Many of them spoke about the struggle they faced paying for tuition. How they had to work a minimum wage job in order to pay for rent and tuition. Forgive me, but I just couldn’t find myself sympathizing with their struggle. A minimum wage job allowed you to pay for rent and tuition in New York City and that’s supposed to make me relate? Today working a minimum wage job will get you on welfare and food stamps. It’s definitely not going to pay for schooling and a roof over your head.
It got me thinking about what a realistic graduation speech would sound like. It definitely wouldn’t be as cheerful and optimistic as they normally are. It would look a little more like this.
First of all, I would like to say congratulations fellow graduates! You did it! It doesn’t matter if you breezed through your classes and pulled all-nighters to get that paper in last minute. You earned your degree. Not everyone in this world has the opportunity to go to college so in that respect, consider yourselves lucky.
Now you get to enter the real world. So remember right before when I said consider yourselves lucky? Forget that. The real world is a scary place. You will wish time and time again that you were back in college. You did not realize how great you’ve had it these past four years. College was your security blanket. You were able to slack off, get drunk every other day, lay in bed until 3. You were in college, you had an excuse. You do that now and people will just think you’re a degenerate.
You also didn’t have to stress about working. Maybe you worked part-time waiting tables or bagging groceries. It was really just for some spending money and to keep yourself busy. Now work will consume you. It will be all you think about. If you’re lucky enough to land a job right out of college, you’ll be too tired to do anything else. Working 9-5 is bad enough but you’ll be putting in a lot more than just eight hours. Don’t have a job? My prayers and thoughts are with you.
You will quickly realize that 9 out of 10 times your application is never even seen. There are hundreds of other people applying for the same job as you. It’s easy for your resume to get lost in the shuffle. If you do score an interview, they’ll expect at least two interviews of you and you’ll probably be expected to do an assignment for them. I bet you thought you were done writing essays?! If and when you do get a job offer, you’re going to realize just how little 30k really is. After paying rent, student loans, cell phone bill, you’ll barely have enough money to eat. Free will become your favorite word. Free food. Free drinks.
I predict that 95% of you sitting here today will contemplate going back to school. Your reasoning behind this will be you have nothing else going on. Since going to college and getting an undergrad degree isn’t a rarity anymore, you’ll need something extra to stand out from the crowd. Simply having a bachelor’s isn’t enough. A Master’s is where it’s at. More student loans. Be afraid, be very afraid. I’m sure by the time your kids are grown up they’ll need to at least get a PhD in order to stand out.
Look, I still think you’ve made the right decision by getting your degree. Unless you’re good with your hands and could have been a plumber or electrician or had the next big idea for an app or social networking site, having that degree is better than having no degree. It just won’t feel like it sometimes. You will struggle and feel lost. It’s an uphill battle, and some of hills will be higher than others. But don’t give up. Because while CEOs and big companies are starting to take everything, I still believe that perseverance and hard work will eventually win out. It just may take a little longer than you thought.
And in the meantime seriously take advantage of that free thing. If someone invites you somewhere and this somewhere has free food and/or drinks, always RSVP “Yes”.