May 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

I just found out that my op-ed piece has been published by my local paper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Okay, so it’s not the New York Times or even the Boston Globe, but it’s a start.

It was quite a shock to learn it had been published at all, since I found out through a congratulatory Facebook message from a friend from high school. Apparently, her mom saw it in the paper this morning.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette website is subscription-only, so I am reposting the article here. (If you have a subscription, use the direct link here.)  Enjoy!

Adrift on the ‘Liberal Arts Titanic’

When Dickens said “it was the best of times and the worst of times,” I believe he was referring to one’s college graduation. Graduation is the ultimate farewell party. It is the time to celebrate all your accomplishments, and the last big hurrah before young adulthood.

Last May my party boat was sinking fast, and everyone was scrambling for a life preserver. Some students, born prepared, stepped calmly into the lifeboats marked “graduate school,” “law school” and “medical school.” The rest of us ran around searching for a job, an apartment, a program – anything other than moving back home to live in our parents’ basement.

As an undergraduate, nothing seemed scarier than being stranded in the middle of the ocean, without a job or direction.  Without a lifeboat, like graduate school, we would be forced to swim, and I would do anything to avoid getting wet.  So, when I was accepted to a masters program abroad I grabbed my bag and jumped into the boat marked “graduate school.”  And I sat there, like those rich folks from Titanic, observing the chaos and panic as other classmates kept searching for a survival route.

Though I am not proud to admit it, I committed to a year in Europe not because it was the best plan, but because it was a plan.  All throughout the summer I repeated to myself: “At least I have a plan.”  Now, in the midst of my twentieth year of school in a row, a part of me wishes I had stayed on the Liberal Arts Titanic as it sunk, scrambling like the rest of my peers.  After all, we were all in the same boat.

I know a Politics major that was determined to be President someday.  She is currently unemployed and living with her parents.  I know an American Studies major trying to survive in New York City on a part time salary.  There’s a Philosophy major, and Mensa-certified genius, working as a secretary, an English major temping in Boston, and a Politics and History double major working at Barnes and Noble.  In short, everyone is unemployed, or working at a job they hate until a real career comes along.  Welcome to the Titanic, would you like a drink while you wait to be rescued from the wreckage of your life, as you know it?

I can’t help but wonder if the Liberal Arts promise failed us.  “Enter college undecided,” they told us.  “Study a little bit of everything.  Go ahead, major in English or Philosophy and worry about the rest later.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of lifeboats.”  My mother wonders if those kids who went to technical and trade schools had it right all along.  When I see her, she is sure to tell me how well so-and-so’s daughter is doing, a girl who majored in accounting and is now working as a CPA.  And it is hard to argue with that.  After all, she probably has health insurance.

But the problem still remains.  Not all of us are cut out for accounting, management, or engineering.  And many of us are unwilling to give up the exciting, stimulating, liberal arts experience of our dreams.  How can a ticket for the 5:10 Amtrak to Pittsburgh compete with passage on the grand Titanic?

My university may not have deposited me on the doorstep of a successful career, but it did give me access to student theater, improvisational comedy, sculpture classes, student journalism, campus-wide festivals, and the “Less You Wear, the Less You Pay” dance.  And perhaps most importantly, I really enjoyed my studies.  If anything, I now understand how special it is to enjoy what you do, and how lucky I was to experience that for four years. I would not trade my liberal arts experience for anything, not even a nice apartment or a 401k.

The Liberal Arts Titanic is a true masterpiece.  The desks are lavish with decorative embellishments and opportunities.  The passengers are diverse and inspiring.  The lifestyle is to die for, and the dancing is non-stop.  The Liberal Arts Titanic showed me a good time, but could not show me my future.  Still, I argue that the ride is worth taking, even when you know it will leave you stranded in the middle of the ocean.

Some lifeboats might reach the shore, where the doctors and lawyers climb out and walk along preset routes into their careers.  Other lifeboats, like a Master’s program for example, will only take you part of the way, and then you are destined to swim or tread water alongside everyone else.  After all, lifeboats were not built to cross oceans, and even the most brilliant student can fall overboard.  In the end, most of us will have to get wet.

From my position, standing in England on the other side of a literal ocean looking back, the figurative water doesn’t look so bad.  My peers all seem to be surviving.  Some are swimming through temporary jobs, some are splashing and having fun, and others are diving for buried treasure and undiscovered opportunities.

Now I see that instead of being a death sentence, my parents’ basement is actually a handy survival device.  It is comforting to think that if I tire myself out, perhaps by swimming in the wrong direction, I will always have a place to rest and recover.  And for those of us that are truly lucky, a parents’ basement also allows us the luxury to take some time and just float.

My next step is clear.  I must finally dive in to my new life and see where the current takes me.


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