Discourse / Editorials / May 6, 2010

Thoughts from the Embers: Senior shock

For weeks now, the burning question in every senior’s ear is this: what are you going to do after you graduate? You’ve spent four years at one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the country and now you’re free to spread your knowledge anywhere. Isn’t that great?

The real question behind the question seems as though to say: you’ve finished college, how are you going to change the world now?

For some, the question is easy: graduate school. A select few can answer, “traveling” or “Fulbright” or “[insert amazing job here].” For most of us, however, we tense up and say, “I’m not sure yet. I have applications out…” At which point we stop because we’ve seen the inquisitor’s face fall, their eyes widen, their head nod with doubt.

Few of us will win Fulbrights. And, after 17 years of formal schooling, graduate school isn’t necessarily always the next logical step for those of us left over, even in this economy. Not all of us can arrange for interesting jobs, or any jobs for that matter, immediately after we graduate.

So why is there an expectation of immediate greatness? Quite naturally, it makes Knox’s statistics look better if more of us go straight to graduate school in the fall. It’s important to have alumni at top positions in every field that can spread Knox’s prestige and donate to the school. In a competitive academic environment such as Knox’s, the pressure to succeed is great. But we are just finishing the most intense four years of our lives—can’t we have some breathing room?

Beyond the pressure from our professors and close administrators to succeed in the world as they know we can, we’re being questioned from our friends and family back home as well, about how we can validate our education after graduation. They just finished paying nearly $35,000 to $40,000 per year for us to attend Knox. Now we better be able to do something that’s worth that chunk of change.

Here’s the problem: Knox is a liberal arts school. It doesn’t prepare us for a “job” in the real world. It prepares us to think critically, become socially conscious and pursue higher education. In fact, academic programs such as “journalism” are discouraged as self-designed majors because they are too focused, too practical to pursue at a liberal arts college. If we wanted to prepare ourselves for the workforce, we should have attended a vocational school.

Some of us might have the funds to “take time off” and travel or apply for the ever-present unpaid internship (which may soon, in fact, become an illegal source of labor). But most of us desperately need steady income in order to move out of our mother’s basement and confront the possibility of funding graduate school. Anyway, a person becomes more marketable to graduate programs if they have life experience besides just academia, don’t they?

There’s also the argument that if we don’t stay in academia, we aren’t going to have the motivation to apply and then continue with our education. If we don’t start training for our dream job now, we’ll always lag behind or fall short. But consider this: none of us came to Knox in order to “relax.” We wouldn’t still be here if that were our mantra. Never fear, adults in our lives, we’ll make our mark in the world yet. Just give us some time.

If you think about it, most adults don’t begin changing the world right out of college. Might we remind you that many academics (our professors included) took time off from academia to travel or waited tables for awhile. They didn’t loose their gaze on what was important and we won’t either. We just want to get out of our parent’s basement and experience some life.

For all you seniors out there who haven’t the slightest idea of where you’ll end up by next fall, don’t sweat it. You’re not alone. There is still plenty of time to make the world a better place.

When prospective students visit Knox, professors and current students alike shower them with questions or encouragement about their interests, however vast they may be. We say it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you want to major in now. Most likely, you’ll be going in a different direction by your senior year anyway. Can’t the same be true for seniors graduating from college?

The next time you talk to a graduating senior about their future and they mumble some vague notion about doing something sometime, TKS encourages you to smile (despite your concerns for their future) and remind them they’ll have a degree from Knox in a few weeks and since they aren’t yet pinned down, the world will be their oyster.

You might not believe it to be true, but a comment like that might just make these last few weeks a little less stressful on those of us entering the world undecided.

TKS Staff

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