“So what are you doing now?” is the question that has been consistently posed of me since my arrival back home from my final year of university. It’s a question that hits a nerve every time that it is asked. It may seem innocent but it can be packed with judgment, it’s not so much a question as it is a gauge of ones usefulness.
Originally a Montrealer, I spent the last four years studying at Western University, formerly known as the University of Western Ontario, in London. While at Western I actively participated in clubs, edited the film studies journal, and was a zealous member of an on-campus fraternity, while simultaneously maintaining a straight “A” average. In listing my achievements at university my intent is not to self-congratulate myself (there are many students at Western who have similar if not better achievements than I), it is to implore my elders and those who claim seniority over me to lay off. After four years of hard work and campus involvement, what am I supposed to do? At least allow me to catch up on some sleep before you ask me to figure out my life. Now, to return to the question that opened this article: “So what are you doing now?”
Whenever I hear that question I feel like Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous character, Jules, in the scene where he interrogates his doomed victims in Quentin Tarantino’s cult classic, Pulp Fiction. I feel like pulling my metaphorical Colt .45 out of my pocket, look my innocently curious interrogator in the eye and yell, “say what again! Say what again! I dare ya! I double dare ya motherf#%^er! Say what one more Godd@!mn time!”
It seems to me that university grads are not getting the credit they deserve. More alarmingly, the university system doesn’t seem to get the credit it deserves either. From an economic standpoint, fewer students are able to land jobs upon graduation. However, economic trends fluctuate and that statistic may change. Yet, of late, I’ve noticed that the university system does not retain the clout that it once yielded on a sociological level. Students have just finished what could be their final educational achievement and they are quickly shoved into another stage of their lives as if their milestone was meaningless. It is no longer enough to say that you graduated university.
Times are tough. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for university graduates to get a job. Thus, we are forced to either take jobs that we are under qualified for, or, we feel the need to jump into a “practical” graduate program, which we are not positive is the right fit for us. It is this mission, this search for the sacrosanct entry-level job that I believe spells doom for the new generation entering the workforce.
Sure, parents can blame it on laziness cultivated by electronic stimulants. They can blame it on poor work ethic exacerbated by caffeine boosting energy drinks, which fuel the notorious college “all-nighters.” This is only the surface of the problem.
What truly is the issue with my generation is our lack of curiosity. Though, we are not completely to blame. How can we be blamed when we are taught that university is merely a factory where students are conditioned to enter the workforce without thinking twice about what they actually want to do? We are conditioned to believe that business and economics are the only valuable programs to study. I believe that there is more to education than finding a job.
Many folks bemoan the destruction of art. Music is not what it once was. Films have become cheapened. Maybe one of the reasons that artistic production has deteriorated is because students are no longer encouraged to follow their artistic dreams. Conversely, they are told to stay away from the study of arts because art does not cultivate the ability to get a job.
I have an arts degree and I am proud of it. Will it land me a coveted job upon my graduation? No. My friends who have graduated with finance and business degrees, on the other hand, will. Many have received high paying and highly sought after jobs at investment banks, start up businesses and other such firms. I think that this is wonderful. I think that the economy depends on people like my friends to contribute to the economy.
However, I don’t believe that employment out of university should be the only criteria of one’s value or worth in society. I don’t believe that the only jobs that are worth a damn are ones that are purely financial. I believe that students, upon graduation, should not be coaxed into a career that they are not sure they want to pursue. I believe that parents and elders should encourage younger members of society to take a breath, think about what they want to do, and then go after that goal with ambition, passion and hard work.
Next time you see your neighbour’s kid arrive home from university, think for a moment. Rather than ask him his plans and what he is going to do next, congratulate him, and tell him (or her) that he made his parents proud. Everything else will follow in time.