I was enjoying breakfast with a classmate in the Retreat a few days ago. He was telling me the story of how his mother, a Vassar graduate, got her job as a publisher. “Five days before graduation she walked into the CDO with her soon-to-be degree in cognitive science,” he told me. “She walked out thirty minutes later with a job at a publishing company and has worked there ever since.”
The story seemed too simple, too crisp, too easy. Even how the words trickled off in a story format made it somewhat sweet. I could taste and feel the satisfaction and gratification of four years spent in endless classes and lectures, all made worthwhile decades later with a secure job. The process seemed so effortless; be a good kid, attend a great school, walk out with a job. Life was good in 1983.
As a liberal arts student I’ve learned to accept, recognize, overzealously cite in papers, and somewhat fathom the growing economic inequality in America. Political science classes have taught me that Horatio Alger is beyond dead, buried deep within American history. For close to three years I have learned to recognize and evaluate types, cases and the growth of economic inequality. Instead of watching college basketball this March I have been a witness to the constant battle between the American rich and those gasping for air while trying to make ends meet. All the horror stories about the one percent growing richer seem to become a closer reality every day. If it happened today, the story would be too simple and easy; walk into the CDO and 30 minutes later have multiple job offers on the table. Economic and cultural times have obviously changed in the U.S. over the last 30 years. I’ve learned as I witness graduating seniors and close friends begin their job searches that maybe we’re overlooking true accomplishments.
A few weekends ago I returned home for a hybrid “Passover-Easter” all-in-one. I had too many baseball commitments to make the weekday family seder, but was fortunate enough to crash my neighbor’s Easter lunch. It’s an annual tradition that our neighbors and my family take part in—an understanding of each other’s customs and religions. My dad tossed me the Sunday Edition of the New York Times and told me to seek out Thomas Friedman’s piece “Need a Job? Invent It.” (New York Times, 3.30.2013) Friedman writes that, these days, “What you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know.” Like the story of a peer’s Vassar mother decades ago, “My generation had it easy. We got to ‘find’ a job,” writes Friedman.
That job finding process, the journey we take day in and day out to making that next step, is what I’ve realized to be our most valuable gift from our social and economic circumstances. It’s a common divide for Vassar students and those in the liberal arts world alike. Following our passions in the arts, music and environmental causes may not give us the most enticing, opportunistic, or financially appealing jobs, but are the endless hours behind a desk job—the one that makes you cringe every time an email pops up on your computer—worth sacrificing for what you love? I had it all backwards: go to college, be a good kid, get great grades and you’ll have a nice job and make good money. It’s not about the end result though, and unfortunately only through adjusting to the economic moment of our culture am I realizing that it’s actually about following your passions and sacrificing the rest. That’s the most powerful pay day or job offer. The moment you know you’ve given it all to what has promised to give it back to you.
It’s time to face economic inequality with reckless ambition and abandon. We face a clear cultural divide. Corporate CEOs are at the top looking down with an aerial view of American poverty and the growing mountain of jobless college graduates. By their definition they are winning consistently, eating good, living well. As society changes and the job culture of our country does as well, maybe we should reconsider what victory, accomplishments and the idea of a “win” really mean.
Let’s flip it. Hold the ball in our hands; control the game. As a pitcher I’ve loved how baseball is the only sport where the defense controls the pace of the game. I decide when I step one foot off the pitching rubber and deliver the pitch. I decide when I take a step down the mound and spit a few sunflower seeds passionately into the brown dirt. I decide when I let the ball soar inside the hitter’s favorite spot and get smacked around the diamond. While sometimes I get lost in the moment, the game is mine, even for those few pitches, which appear as mere seconds in my memory. As students and young Americans, we’re constantly lost in the moment. The job search and these economic times have arguably consumed our precious moments. But it’s now time to hold the power in defense of being able to control our own destiny. We can’t fear these troubling times in the American job market; we need to let our passions redefine it.
—Harrison Remler ‘14 is a Political Science major.