By Katelyn Gendron
The News Department has been flooded with announcements from colleges and universities the world over, celebrating the culmination of their students' efforts. Political bigwigs and entertainment moguls, including President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Julie Andrews and Stephen Colbert, have inspired and entertained by delivering keynote addresses at institutions from Morehouse to the University of Colorado. Like most commencement speeches, many this year have drawn on the philosophical "if you can dream it, you can do it" mantra, and while that provides us with a momentary warm and fuzzy feeling, I wish I'd heard some more concrete advice at my commencement.
A keynote speaker, by definition, is someone who has achieved great personal and/or professional success in the face of what seemed like insurmountable odds; therefore, graduates are already inspired by your mere presence. They're familiar with your resume; you don't need to regale them with your past exploits, instead, why don't you give them some tips they can actually use? I'm all for the warm and fuzzy but we're not helping graduates with the bigger problem here: how to navigate this jobless economy.
Here's what I wish my keynote speaker had shared with me on graduation day:
1) That six-month grace period to start paying back your student loans goes by faster than you think so get a job, any job, so that you can make good on your payments without using credit cards. Don't use those credit cards or if you do, make sure it's not more than you can pay back fully when you get next month's bill.
2) Beware of many online classified and Craig's List job advertisements because they can lead you to some pretty seedy establishments, whose employers are more interested in your capabilities sans-clothing.
3) Temp agencies rarely find suitable placements for you. It's up to you to be your own advocate and find your own job.
4) It may take months or even years for you to obtain a job in your field. I still have friends who aren't using their degrees. It's sad, but true. For many graduates the job search and eventual entry-level pay will be demoralizing. You'll go on 20 interviews without getting the job but eventually you'll get hired, that's just logic.
5) You may have to move back in with your parents because you can't afford to live on your own with entry-level pay. Yes, also sad, but true.
According to information released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in April, "Despite modest improvement since the most recent peak in October 2009, the unemployment rates of recent college graduates remained above the rates prior to the 2007-2009 recession." Less than 5 percent of students who received advanced degrees in finance, public administration and leisure and hospitality actually gained employment in 2011. That's pitiful! While figures are higher in the education, medical and social assistance fields, the percentage of graduates receiving employment is still less than 32 percent.
What's worse is that those who actually get a job are making peanuts. According to an article published by Forbes on April 15, graduates with humanities and social science start at $37,000, while those in education make less than $40,000 and let's not even get into how little journalists earn.
So basically what this economy is telling us is that students will incur a mountain of debt to earn a degree they can't use; or, if they actually find employment within their field, they'll struggle to make a living wage.
To that end, I have two questions:
1) Should college students have chosen trade school instead?
2) How can employers live with themselves knowing that their employees are working poor professionals who qualify for food stamps?!? Good luck explaining that one to your maker on judgment day.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.