A Vision of Students Today
This video is a little old, in internet terms at least. It came out in 2007 while I was still in undergrad. The video was made before college graduates of class of 2009 entered “the real world” to find by in large there was no place for them. Here’s an old news report about it on ABC News.
The economic crisis hit home, when college graduates all across the nation realized there were no jobs waiting on them. One of the outdated messages in this film says “when I graduate I will probably have a job that do not exist today,” it was a line we were told repeatedly growing up. In many ways, at the time at least, that statement seemed like the promise of tomorrow, the promise of a technological future. However, we graduated and found those promised jobs we worked so hard for through high school and college, they still don’t exist. I am not personally involved in any of the Occupy Movements, but as an anthropologist and a person that has lived through this moment in time, I’d like to point to this as the explanation and cause. You can blame us I suppose if it makes you feel better, but anyone with a 21st century college degree isn’t lazy, dumb, or “whinny.” College graduates of 2009, 2010, 2011, and those soon to graduate in 2012 worked hard fulfilling their obligation to Weber’s the “Protestant Work Ethic”. Just to be admitted to college, young people of the 21st century were taught how to jump through many hoops our parents and grandparents never faced and arguably could not have passed even as adults. We emerged from the “No Child Left Behind” Era labeled as “over achievers” in spite of ourselves. If you don’t want to believe my biased insider view, the emic view for anthropologists, then that is fine: check out Alexandra Robbins’ book The Overachievers or at least consider the New York Times book review of it.
Seven years down the road, I’d say we’ve fallen from grace because no matter what degree of concern adults expressed over the negative repercussions of this “overachieverness,” they were proud. Sure it was a sign of neurosis on the national level but, hey, we were excelling at the hard-work end of the American Dream, surely it would pay off. Yet seven years later, we are being depicted as throwing a nation-wide temper-tantrum. Foxnews labels it a “passing outburst” in this online report and it is only one among many. Even those who try to take the middle road seem to either find the movement unreasonable or totally missing the point. In a Forbes article written to explain the movement to its readers, Peter Cohan proves he missed the point in this statement arguing for OWS activist to meet corporations in the middle, where he writes, “Corporations provide many benefits to society — they use people, capital, and technology to create value for consumers, employees, shareholders, and communities.” He openly, perhaps without realizing it wrote “they use people.” But, I’m getting off point.
My point is that the 2005 overachievers did everything asked and expected of them and more. They graduated in 2009, if you follow the 4 year collegiate model, then faced great difficulty getting jobs, particularly in getting jobs in their chosen field. The United States was in no way unique in this: my first graduate school paper was on a very similar crisis in the Republic of Ireland which pushed many young people to emigrate for work. However, I was one of the lucky ones. I did not get a job in my field but I did find a graduate program, which I began in the fall of 2010. This was not the case for many of my fellow graduates. For those who might think this failure to find work is the result of laziness or a lack of earnest effort, please consider the rate of unemployment from 2009 to 2012 and the fact that most of those who have graduated during the recession are not drawing unemployment because they were students and never were employed at a full time job. There is a gap in time between the lack of employment of college grads in May 2009 and the OWS movement which began in the summer 2011. Despite the global economic crisis, college grads continued to look for work or apply to graduate school/law school/med school or volunteer for non-profit organizations and NGOs. But like everyone else looking for a job, those who found an opening were lucky. When the OWS idea was first proposed it found incredibly fertile ground and the movement spread like wildfire, to mix metaphors. It is my hope and prayer that from the ashes, a new and better America can grow and blossom.
While this movement can in many ways be described most affectionately as organized chaos, the motivation and meaning behind it sends a message of hope for the future of America. In many ways, I think it is time to realize we’ve entered adulthood and had the weight of the world put on our shoulders, but let’s get over the shock, disappointment, frustration, and anger… Collectively, our generation has resources, assets, and skills beyond the wildest imaginations of our parents and grandparents, I want to see us do something. The protests and boycotts across this nation and aboard are evidence of our determination and powerful sense of right and wrong. I am not asking for the protest to end, but I have to think this is only the beginning. I am calling for further collaboration. Corporations and political/governmental organizations utilize think-tanks all the time with dramatic innovative results. We are connected in a way generations before us could not have dreamed of. We’ve occupied the streets, now what? There are plenty of social, political, financial, and environmental issues to go around. Let’s put together an online think-tanks to address them. Why let our intelligence, our education, and the energy of our youth go to waste? Collaboration, especially online collaboration, can take place anywhere and anytime (as long as you have power and signal). Why should we wait for anyone else to organize us? Those jobs that we were promised, the ones that don’t exist yet? The only solution is that we have to create them ourselves. Our parents, our teachers, and our government, they can’t really help us with this. So many problems have been put off by those who came before us, and put on to our shoulders. It’s time to face those problems head on. We’ve all got unique and invaluable skill sets and the technology and social networks to make this happen. So pick a topic: social inequality (pick a type), the energy crisis, government encroachment on civil liberties and human rights globally and at home, chronic illness, cancer, HIV, the US health care system, global hunger/malnutrition, debt and balancing the budget (on the personal, household, institutional, and governmental levels), social change toward social accountability and respect of human dignity, citizenship and national boarders, improving US international relations, environmental repercussions of pollution and resource exploitation… the list is endless. Create online discussions of these issues, everyone knows you can occupy and post to blogs and facebook at the same time. Make us of Google Plus’s “hangouts” and really get the conversations going. Make blog post about your ideas, possible solutions, and give each other feedback. After all, everything on the internet is peer-reviewed, so show the world that means something. For the young people who are currently unemployeed, unemployment doesn’t mean you can’t be occupied. Young people still in college, in graduate school, or starting your first job: we have to stay connected, no matter how busy things get. We each have a unique and valuable skill set and set of resources to offer. We have to build for the future, come up with practical solutions and get interdisciplinary with it. A chemist, a political scientist, and a writer could come together and create a whole new way of seeing the world. History shows us the great leaps forward which can be made by a person looking at a problem from more than one angle: Renee Descartes, Johnannes Kepler, Issac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Franz Boas, Albert Schweitzer, Edward Said, Theodore Roosevelt, and Leonardo De Vinci to name a few. We are facing a very important moment in time and a great deal of potential energy has been built up hover now is the time to direct that energy toward creating the type of future we want for ourselves and those who come after us.