I graduate in four weeks; on the far side of commencement waits adulthood, responsibilities and the very real possibility of unemployment.
Too many of my friends graduating with me will leave college unemployed. Some feel cheated — that they were sold the promise of steady work, marketability, a foot in every job market’s door.
Their parents shelled out thousands of dollars — for many, hundreds of thousands — and they themselves slogged through coursework, logging long hours at the library, juggling on-campus and off-campus jobs.
And now, what was it for? To many of my classmates, a college education is nothing more than a prerequisite in a job description. You need it, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.
You could call this entitlement. All of us soon-to-be graduates feel entitled to something that we’re beginning to realize was never a guarantee.
I’ve always felt, by virtue of my college education, entitled to a job, and not just any job — a “good” job, one that’s interesting, a bit challenging, something reputable. And I suppose maybe I’m not wrong in feeling entitled — if I didn’t want that kind of work, I wouldn’t have gone to college.
But when I trace that entitlement back to its source, I realize I have no right to feel cheated at all.
There are some at my school who put themselves through college; I knew a guy who did his schoolwork on the bus when he went to and from double shifts at the local Arby’s.
But for the vast majority of us, college was one of those lazy rivers you see at amusement parks and Vegas hotels; we drifted along the slow, inexorable current of our parents’ money and insistence that we finish school, and now that we’ve arrived at the end of the artificial river, the current will be switched off, leaving us to fend for ourselves.
For most of us, graduating from college was not so much a feat of human willpower as it was allowing ourselves to be pulled along by the momentum of privilege. I can speak only for my own school, but it is remarkably difficult to fail out of Cornell if your parents can afford for you to be there.
I ordinarily despise the word “entitled” — it is the favorite tool of scorn for conservatives when talking of the poor; it is similarly favored by older generations when speaking of the younger ones.
But here, I think, it is spot on. I am entitled; my classmates are entitled. We feel entitled to stimulating, well-paying, respectable jobs. We feel entitled to a certain standard of living far better than the national or global average.
And it is only because — for the most of us — we were born into families that could pay to send us to schools which have become the gatekeepers of wealth and the bestowers of prestige, that we were born into environments that valued wit and creativity rather than stifling it, that we were given opportunities to grow rather than responsibilities to work.
And so perhaps it will not be such a bad thing if I, or any of my classmates, find ourselves in a position where we are forced to work some profoundly unsexy, profoundly dull job.
We are not exempt from the responsibilities that govern us all — to provide for ourselves and our families, to do some line of work that benefits, rather than harms, the people around us.
If we can find work that does those things and is also well-paying and reputable and stimulating, so much the better. But we should not feel entitled to those things because we have not deserved them.
It frustrates me to see unemployment among my generation so high because I’ve seen that much of it is rooted in snobbishness, an unwillingness to subject oneself to Arby’s, Toys-R-Us, Starbucks.
The fact of working at an Arby’s with a college degree might seem strange, but that impression of strangeness is rooted in something more sinister — an insistence that you’ve ascended the class of people who are “supposed” to work at Arby’s because you went to college.
When we begin to stratify people like that, we fragment what should be a shared humanity. We agree to live amongst one another because we need services we cannot provide ourselves.
I’m not entitled to a better job and a higher wage and a more comfortable life just because I went to college, not when I arrived at graduation carried by the lazy current of my privileged upbringing and background.
I realize I have no right to feel entitled to a better job than people who haven’t benefited from such auspicious circumstances, and surprisingly, I feel heartened by such a realization, less sectioned-off.
We all rely on one another, and believing you deserve a better life than another on something so baseless as a diploma is self-delusion.
Matthew Ormseth is currently a student at Cornell University majoring in English. He seeks to give an honest portrayal of life as both a university student and member of the Millennial generation.