On Thursday, I enthusiastically signed up to volunteer to help and inspire College Possible students by speaking to them about my college and application experience.
I woke up at 8:30 AM on Saturday, tossing and turning in my bed, contemplating if I should drive all the way to Brooklyn Park to speak to these students. I immediately conduct a cost and benefit analysis, thinking, almost getting up, and then going back to lay down. I conclude that this drive was going to cost me more than what I would get out from it. Gas is like gold these days, and I certainly couldn’t afford to drive half an hour.
I go anyways. As you see, I’m not always the most rational person.
“So, how did you choose your major?” said a shy student who looked younger than her actual age.
“Well you don’t have to declare your major right away, take your time to see what you really enjoy learning, and…” and then I realize my feelings towards these liberal arts majors were quite complicated.
I am a Millennial. I was born December 2, 1990. I am young enough not to know that President Bush’s father was also “President Bush,” immature enough to still quote Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” for a chuckle, but mature enough to ask why did we impeach a president (Clinton) who lied and not another president (Bush) who also lied? Half my life has been spent in time of war and security, in an economic crisis that crushed the middle class, but oddly allowed me to have my first home, and become the first person in my family to finish college. Certainly, it’s been an oddly unbalanced enriching life for someone like me who grew up in the projects, steeped in poverty, with a single mother and 7 siblings.
“With the way the economy is today,” I started, pointing my fingers out to the students, “you have to be smart about what you major in. Fields like English, Arts, and Philosophy are great, but may not be the best because it’s a difficult field to break into and…” and there I go instilling some real world wisdom in these wide eyed high school students. I talked about the changing nature of the job field, liberal art colleges, skills and technical colleges, and ended with “if you decide to go into fields like English or Arts, that’s fine, just know that you will have to work harder to find and secure opportunities.”
As I concluded, a nervous College Possible Coach raises his hand to comment, probably not expecting my cold and uninspiring reply, “Well, you see, I majored in religion and I’m here, doing fine. You never know where you will end up, but you will be fine.”
That’s true, you never know where you will end up, but why do I feel so bothered every time someone says “you will be fine.”
The unemployment rate for those 20-24 is at an all time high, and undergraduate students lucky enough to get a job are usually overqualified or are working jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Not to mention that in Minnesota African Americans experience almost 3 times the rate of unemployment than the general population, while Asian Americans take twice as long to find a job after they’ve been let go. So, the “you will be fine” mantra is an annoying response to college graduates, and an often mistaken phrase of kindness to high school students who have yet to understand the reality of the current economy.
When universities and colleges don’t even have a job placement department, they can teach us whatever they want, and then release us into a competitive job market that demands skills that we neither have or are competitive in. How can we hold these institutions accountable when from the beginning they don’t need to be? From volunteering to interning, Millennials don’t expect to be paid anymore as long as we get what ever experience we can get because experience means a potential job. It’s become a rite a passage for people my age to work for free even after college. Trust me, I don’t enjoy working for free in this capacity because it inherently perpetuates inequality, but I can’t opt out.
“Stop complaining,” they may say about us Millennials, and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” but we’re not even wearing the same shoes anymore; we’re given high heels to race in this catch 22 marathon. It seems that many believe that Millennials just need to to reinvent themselves, take out loans to become entrepreneurs, and create online reputations to distinguish ourselves from others in the job market. While people are making millions off of self-help books for Millennials and employers who believe it’s hard to work with this generation, the heart of the issue cannot be solved with the concept of “self help.”
We have an even larger and draining problem within our public schools. With the narrowing of curriculum, it has destroyed viable career tracks for high school students who may not want to go to a 4 year college. Such departments like Home Economics have been taken out, replaced with a curriculum that teaches students how to take tests. If we have a one track system, from high school to college, in our public education system, we are not allowing high school students the awareness that technical college or short term programs are an optional career track. With the achievement gap, in the end, students of color from low income backgrounds suffer from such narrow curriculum that typically groom and cater to middle class students who are entering a 4 year higher education institution.
A Broken System
I went to a private liberal arts college, and this is not my crusade or personal vendetta against such institutions, but the education we are receiving is at a disconnect to what the job market actually demands. Who has time to rack up 2-4 years of paid experience for an entry level position? If this is what the job market demands, why are we not preparing people for these realities? Even if we made all the right decisions, why are we still feeling like it doesn’t matter?
I chuckle to myself when I see titles of articles about Millennials like “10 Reasons Millennials Are the Screwed Generation,” “11 Tips on Managing Millennials,” or “Millennials: The Entitled Generation.” We’ve been labeled narcissists for our love for selfies, entitled brats with helicopter parents, commitment phobs, money driven, and just plain privileged. I am not one to label a whole generation by a set of characteristics, but I can say that we start categorizing people to better understand our world and the meaning they give to us in our life. They say Millennials just aren’t trying hard enough or that we spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter, but the traditional route to success may have worked back then, while today it certainly isn’t working. Surely we all grew in different times, and interpret our experiences differently, but I don’t understand why we keep on comparing and painting a picture of the Baby Boomers vs. the Millennials, when really it should be us against the broken system.