"So, what are you going you do after graduation?"
That's the mantra. I hear it everywhere I go from virtually everyone I meet. Like an unshakeable mantle on my shoulders, like an unshakeable malediction, I hear this question.
And the question in itself is flawed.
It's not what I'm going to do once I graduate, but what I'm going to do once I become an adult. Recently, I returned home to Brooklyn and met with a few old friends whom I had not seen in a while.
I told them about my trip to the Poynter National Writer's Workshop in Hartford, Conn. They told me about their jobs at the corner deli or Blockbuster Video. These kids never went to college. Some never finished high school. All they've ever wanted was enough money to buy a better stereo for their car, or for some liquor and Burger King.
These kids laughed at me when they were pulling in $350 a week delivering pizzas and I was living on Ramen noodles. We were 18 then. Now, at 22, it seems I could be the one laughing - if I weren't shaking my head in pity.
I have three potential jobs lined up after graduation. The lowest salary I have been offered is $37,000. For a kid with one credit card, no rent, and only a cell phone bill, that is an enormous sum. I could move out of my parents' home immediately, even in Brooklyn, if I took a roommate.
My friends, however, are locked into their dead-end jobs, if they even have one. Going nowhere, with the years coming faster and faster now, they vent their frustration in various ways. Some sell drugs, because they're convinced it's too late to go for a degree. Others say that college "ain't nothing but work" in front of a group and then quietly confess that they would like my help with applying to one.
I'm about to become an adult. I'm about to leave the realm of undergraduate bliss and enter the real world. These kids, even the ones older then me, are still children. They are incapable of supporting themselves.
And you know what? They did it to themselves. They all had a scheme or an answer. In high school, they said ridiculous things like "I ain't gonna make it to 25 anyway, so why worry about it?" or "I'm a be a stockbroker on Wall Street and make mils (millions of dollars) before I hit 20." I heard that stockbroker thing so many times it became funny.
Many downplay the worth of a B.A. in today's society. Sure, in order to really have a leg up, you need a master's or more, but if you play your cards right, a bachelor's will do. Having seen the end result of a lack of a college education, I can speak from experience. I hope for more for my friends, I really do. But getting them to turn over a new leaf seems impossible.
During these discussions, I realized something: my friends actually believe that I am on a track to future success. The fact that my friends think I have my life together is almost laughable. Sure, when I compare salaries and goals with them, I'm way ahead. Sure, I have a basic plan. But in truth, I'm as lost as a blind kitten, or any other graduate this May.
Here's a summary of the plan that has so impressed my friends:
2. Purchase 7-inch sandwich from Wegmans. Possibly a Wegmans assorted; possibly a meatball.
3. Eat said sandwich. Drive home.
4. Apply to law schools.
5. Work. Maybe go to law school. Work again.
6. Life rest of 50-65 years. Possibly acquire wife and children.
This is my "plan." This seven-point plan, while considered staggeringly brilliant to the residents of 2430 Haring St., leaves something to be desired. I really have no idea what I'm doing.
And, of course, there are some soon-to-be-graduates that have even less of a plan than I do. They're as lost as my friends in Brooklyn. They too are locked within the trappings of the childhood mentality. They need to become adults as much as my friends at home do.
So, if you see a senior, don't ask them what they're going to do after graduation - ask them how they're going to become an adult.