Commencement, or Life part 2
Posted December 23, 2011on:
Yesterday my son graduated from college, Stony Brook University to be precise. He has a bright shiny new BA in Anthropology (he wanted to be an archaeologist when he started) and probably no place to use it. Very few BAs are useful in the real world, most of them have to be traded up into MAs or even PhDs. I don’t see him going that far, he couldn’t wait to get out of school and into the real world.
In addition, the girl my son is involved with already has an advanced degree. What happens when two degrees start pulling in different directions, if his career takes him to Washington, or Arizona, while hers takes her to Michigan? We’ve seen this happen, two people with a perfectly fine marriage divorce solely to pursue their careers, or if they don’t, who gives up their dreams? I recommend that at least one partner should have a portable job, the kind they can do anywhere. My son likes to work with his hands.
Sometimes we put too much faith in the college degree. Once upon a time they were much harder to get, and stood for much more. Having one meant a great deal. Now we bend over backwards to get people into college, so much so that no one is willing to do grunt work anymore, to the point where there’s a shortage of blue-collar labor. I’ve heard more than one person say “My father didn’t put me through college so I could work in a laundry.” If the idea behind the degree is that it’s a means to an end, probably not, but that’s a bad way to look at a college degree.
I graduated with a degree in Philosophy way back when, a degree I think was and is remarkably useful when it comes to building my life and writing my novels but not really good for much else. I went out into the real world even more unprepared than my son is, because I had no one telling me how unprepared I was. I worked for quite a while in the ‘real world’ and I eventually went back to school. There’s nothing wrong with going back, provided you can afford it time- and money-wise. That’s the benefit of collective living, by the way. I could go back because their were others also contributing to the family income, freeing me and others to do what we wanted rather than what we had to do.
One of the best moments in the ceremony was the speech by the Student Speaker, Alison Becker. She mentioned at one point how she failed a particular test that she would need to qualify for a teaching degree, and how this failure freed her. She hadn’t really wanted the degree anyway, but somehow thought she had to or ought to get it.
(I was immediately reminded of one of the stories in the novel Kobayashi Maru, a Star Trek novel which told the stories of how several of the crewmembers took that test and how they failed it. The test is designed to be failed, the question is how. Some fail spectacularly, taking everyone with them. Some fail by never getting into the scenario in the first place. In one story, Scotty fails by tricking the computer into doing something he knows won’t work in real life but also knows the computer will accept. His failure was so egregious he was punted from the command track entirely, and shifted to the Engineering track which was where he wanted to be all along.)
Do I think the degree is worth getting? Sure, if only to show that he can do that sort of work, and there is much of that work that needs doing. Do I think that it’s the be-all and end-all? Absolutely not. My hope for him is happiness, not necessarily success. Life is a story, and happiness results if you, the author, tell the story of your life correctly. Success may be a part of that story and can lead to happiness, but more often I think it leads in the opposite direction. The question is whether success is merely a plot-point in your life, or a minor character that displaces your life’s proper lead.