It must be difficult to be a college graduate these days. I read through the clips of the various famous speakers, and many are quite wonderful, humble and inspirational, such as Madeleine Albright at Tufts, or downright hysterical, which youíd expect from Stephen Colbert. If thereís a common theme, or a common message, itís the familiar one at this season that the world needs you, graduating senior, and now more than ever, given just how dangerous and overheated and divided the world is. But you can make a difference.
Thatís how I felt when I graduated from college. The world was definitely a mess. But I was going to do something about it. Absolutely. A war had ended. Women were standing up for their rights. Communities were demanding political reform. Police departments were being sued ó successfully. The world was changing, and I was on my way to help change it. In that sense, I felt like somebody, or at least part of a collective ďsomebody,Ē a generation that was defining its time.
I wonder how many college grads feel that way today.
In the old days, you moved out when you graduated from college, if you hadnít already. These days, you graduate and you move back in, but not because you want to. (Note to complaining parents: Iíd love for my children to move back in, but they donít want to, and neither do most of those who are living at home because they canít find a job that will pay the rent plus the car plus the insurance plus the enormous student loans that, no, have not guaranteed them a ďtopĒ job upon graduation.)
And whatís a top job anymore anyway? A top job, if youíre talking to all but the 0.01 percent of the most privileged college grads, is just about any job.
And then you look ahead of you, maybe into your own parentsí anxious faces, or around your new co-workers who are suspicious they are hiring two of you for one of them, or at the work in front of you that sounds interesting, maybe, but leaves you with sore eyes and an aching back from a broken chair that youíre not supposed to complain about because complaining is not a good way to start. You have a job. Not everyone is so lucky. People say this to you so many times that you may begin to wonder whether they are the lucky ones.
Changing the world?
So hereís all I know. The truth is I started out as a clerk for a vending company. I had a college degree, mind you. But if one of the deliverymen was stealing Ding Dongs, I would be the one to catch it by counting up the Ding Dongs and comparing the cash. Summa cum laude, no less. There is a reason they call it work. Perhaps the lesson here is you need more in life, 24/7 schedules notwithstanding.
And then I got much better jobs. And you will have many more than I did. Whatever job you take now is not likely to be where you are in 10 years or 20 years or 30 years. Itís a different world now, which might be why we find it more than a little scary, but you should try not to. Call it freedom, not job insecurity. Call it a life full of chapters, where no choice is final and people are reinventing themselves and we all just shrug. Why not?
And yes, there is the guy from your high school class who has already earned a billion dollars and was neither smart nor decent, and it makes you feel like a failure at 22, which is absurd ó donít be absurd. Besides, if thereís one thing the demise of privacy has shown, itís that people with a billion dollars arenít necessarily one bit happier than you are, and are often less. They just donít have to worry about money, which is certainly nice, but itís not nearly as nice as the moments of joy and sweetness that await you in the peaks and valleys of the life ahead of you.
Do not despair. That is my message. There is sweetness to come. You will fall in love; you will buy that house; you will get that job; you will think back on this and smile with fondness. Be kind to yourself. Be patient. There is sweetness to come.
Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science
professor at USC.