September 18, 2012

Fall Hope

Right now, I'm suffering through an overcast day in NYC.  It's wet but not rainy, cool but not cold, and grey but not dreary.

It's matching my mood.

I'm back at the site of my very first consulting client, the place I was thrilled to leave 2 years ago and the place I'm thrilled to be back at 2 years later.  I've had some difficult clients since then and I never realized how much I missed this place. 

If you don't know, I work in higher ed and one of the things that makes this job wonderful is the beginning of the Fall Semester.  I love this time of year.  Scads of eager, hopeful students pack college campuses around the country, excited yet scared, eager to start this portion of their life that is, essentially, a bridge.  They are old enough to be responsible for their own actions yet not old enough to make it on their own, without help.

Years ago (I'm not saying how many because I just had a birthday), I was one of those students.  I was not thrilled.  I was resigned.  I was going to my parents' alma mater, a school I loathe and never even considered in my college search.  I had been admitted into my dream school, I would be joining my best friend there, and I would be away from the horrid racism that was my hometown.

Then the financial aid letter came and dashed all my hopes.  I received their second best scholarship, which paid all tuition and fees, but not room and board and without an additional $10K a year, this school was too expensive for my parents.  Then, to add insult to injury, my parents called the FinAid office and found out that I was #4 on the list for a Presidential Scholarship, but the school had decided to give 3 Presidential Scholarships to new students and 2 to returning students they had not been able to fund the previous year.  They smiled and commended my parents for all the hard work that I'd done and advised that I come anyway and apply for a Presidential Scholarship the next year.

My parents called their alma mater and told them to attempt to recruit me again.  They did and, with my parents' standing firm against taking out loans for my education, I resigned myself to the school I hated.  I got their Presidential scholarship and, after doing the math, realized I would essentially get paid to go to school to the tune of $6K a year.  This still didn't improve my mood.  I joined my new classmates on campus, doing my best to hide my unhappiness, and resolved to get out as quickly as possible.

I tell this story to contrast it with what I see around me.  The students at the school I am currently at have been running around the grassy knoll, playing Frisbee and tossing footballs, laying on blankets catching the afternoon sun, and talking about the brilliance that encompasses their professors.  They are getting dresses up to catch the "B" line downtown to party at the hottest clubs or try to new restaurants.  They are enjoying the cultural advantages their campus and city have to offer while getting a first rate education.  They are signing up to work the presidential campaigns (many of them in contrast to their parents' political opinions, if what I'm hearing is accurate) and generally getting involved.

They'll graduate in debt and hope against hope that they can find a job.

You see, regardless of how the economy is doing 4 years from now, the Class of 2016 is still going to be in a rough spot when it comes to employment.  They will be competing against 8 years worth of graduates who also desperately need jobs.  Chances are, the stellar University education that they and their parents have paid for will still leave them with debt.  And they will still be living in one of the most expensive cities in the entire world.  Recently, I overheard a client employee bragging that his studio apartment was "only $1500 a month."  It took everything I had not to mention that he was paying more than 2x a mortgage.  Then again, I don't live in NYC.

This entire post is a little rambling and may seem somewhat pointless, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm somewhat envious of the students around me.  They have that hope that I haven't felt in quite a while.  A future of endless possibilities awaits them.  They are just beginning the journey that I've been on for a while now and I hope they have as great a time as I did.  Yes, I had a great time.  Once I stopped moping and got into my classes, I started having a great time.  My other best friend was my roommate and we've been friends for over 15 years now.  Going to a school where I didn't have to worry about money left me the freedom to take internships and fellowships others couldn't take, including those from my dream school.  I graduated with honors, took a few jobs I wasn't crazy about until I landed in my current position, a job that I mostly like (last 2 years notwithstanding).  I'm thinking about the next step at my current job and I am trying to rearrange my life to take more vacation and more time for myself.  Fall is usually my time for introspection and this year was no exception.

Now, if the wind would let up long enough for me to get to the train station. . .

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