Friday, May 28, 2010

Notes from the future.

Recently, thousands of graduates and their families flocked the city like swallows through San Juan Capistrano, and it got me thinking of my own graduation, two years gone, and what exactly it means to have a piece of paper on the wall (other than the fact that it makes my room feel more like a dentist's office).

Throughout school, I remember there was this often-unspoken pressure, this constant feeling that life was like a tower of blocks: each year built on the last in a straight line, and if I screwed up once (and who under such pressure wouldn't?) the whole thing would come crashing down. You're told you have to do well in classes so you'll get into the honors' classes. Then you have to do well in them to get a high GPA. Then you have to study and do well on the SAT's, the ACT's, to get into a good college, where you must do well to get a good job.

And mind you, not just any degree. You must study business or science or math or computers to get a good job. But, if you choose to study literature, well plenty of literature students go on to be lawyers, the college career center likes to remind us. And if you study writing, well, there's always journalism or business writing to be done. Communication skills are very important, after all, in the business world.

Recently I spoke with one of my former professors, and he told me that college freshmen were coming up to him, demanding information about what types of jobs they could get in this type of economy. And my professor had no idea what to say to them.

So I will say this: knowledge is not measured by sheets of paper. And life is not a tower but a random sequence, a pile that by sheer chance builds to a height but that has no simple sense of order. But that's okay. As a pile, it's more stable, and it cannot be knocked down, only rearranged.

If any recent graduates, or parents of recent graduates are reading this right now, I have some small pieces of advice, from two years down the road:
1. Expect life to be hard, at least for a while. Expect to have no money and no sense of direction.
2. Value your education not for the doors it opens in the world but for the experience and effort that went into it.
3. Find something that interests you and go after it passionately. I don't say follow your heart or dreams, because hearts and dreams change. Drive towards your interests until they no longer interest you, or until you realize that they will never lose your interest, at which point you've found a calling.
4. Relax. It works out, eventually. Just not ever in the ways you plan.

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