[Suzanne Merkelson, an On Point intern this fall, is a graduate of Colby College, where she was editor-in-chief of The Colby Echo. We asked her to share her thoughts about our show on jobs and the Class of '09.]
For me, listening to today’s show was the audio equivalent of looking in the mirror. I too am a member of the Class of 2009’s “Lost Generation.” Only I don’t really consider myself lost. Like some of our guests, I am spending the fall interning—at On Point. I’m also working three part-time jobs—retail, a restaurant, lifeguarding—to pay the rent here in Boston. Once the new year rolls around, my calendar is completely empty…I’m hoping to do some more journalism internships or freelance or maybe apply to grad school or maybe even join the Peace Corps. I might move to New York or DC or Catalina Island or China or the Pacific Northwest.
It can be easy to feel lost, especially when you hear those horror stories. People with graduate degrees and decades of experience are unemployed. Personally, I’m trying to enter an industry—journalism—that’s essentially being dragged under by the bus of technological change.
But I didn’t graduate with the highest expectations. The economy started to tank at the very beginning of senior year. My peers didn’t spend senior spring the way our friends in the Class of 2008 did—nervously trying on business suits and driving down from Maine to New York or Boston for job interviews. Job interviews were few and far between. Some said that 2009 was the worst year ever to graduate college.
The BusinessWeek article that started this conversation paints a pretty grim picture. The Class of 2009 may face significantly depressed income levels even years from now when—fingers crossed—we all have real jobs and have paid off student loans and maybe even have health insurance.
But maybe our generation’s experience with un- or under-employment just manifests what the recession has been telling us all along: we couldn’t sustain the level of affluence reached by our parents’ generation. We might even end up more like our Great Depression-era grandparents. I already feel that my experiences since graduation—being grateful for every hour of work I can get my hands on, networking like my life depends on it, grocery shopping on a serious budget, giving up luxuries that used to feel like “essentials” (coffee, for instance)—will frame the decisions I make about employment for the rest of my life.
I received some advice during graduation—“follow your bliss,” the wise words of Joseph Campbell. Without a “real” job, you have to make your own opportunities. Which is what many of my friends have been doing. Volunteering with Americorps. Working at organic farms across the country with the program WWOOF. Teaching English in China and Thailand. Starting a tapas bar in Portland, Oregon. Even waitressing or working retail to save up for grad school.
The Class of 2009 is hearty. We don’t get fazed by much anymore. September 11 was our first week of high school. Hurricane Katrina our first week of college. Our political consciousness was shaped by the Bush presidency and officially awoken by the candidacy and election of Barack Obama. And I think we’ll definitely reach a point where we’re no longer “lost” but leading everyone out of the woods.