Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far, far away from Keene State College and senior year, I vaguely recall thinking about life after college and being confident that I would know exactly what I would want to do the moment after I flung off my graduation cap in exhilarating excitement. Now, as fall semester of senior year draws rapidly to a caffeine-driven, sleep-deprived close, I am about to stand at the threshold of my life as a college graduate with nearly zero idea as to what I will do—and indeed what I want to do.
The “real world” questions that every college graduate must answer (where do I want to live? What do I want to do? Is graduate school in the cards? Do I have to move back home?) provides seemingly infinite possibilities; however, hidden in this “freedom” is the constant awareness that if you have taken out large amounts of student loans and have not won the lottery by six months after you matriculated, then the world is not your oyster. Other questions quickly pop up (What can I afford to do? How will I pay off my student loans? How can I affect social change when I can barely pay my rent?) and with them the realization that the past four years of schooling have—for many—solidified a future slaving away in the attempt to pay off those debts while living a satisfying life.
Our generation, aptly called the “Millennials” and theorized as optimistic, career-driven, and team-oriented, has been put in a unique position in regards to our schooling and our potential careers post-academia. Generally we have been raised to be champions for social justice—investing large amounts of our time in community volunteering and being conscious consumers. Now, with all those years of training to be socially active citizens behind us, we are faced with an economy with shrinking non-profit sectors and growing for-profit corporations and conglomerates.
The realization that many of us—teachers, those going into the non-profit field, and others—will make significantly less for doing what has been encouraged of us should be seen as an affront to our contributions to society and, given the privileged emphasis often placed on “doing what you love, regardless of money,” should highlight the ways in which our society is constructed to reward those who seek the big bucks corporation jobs, despite their historically close ties to suppressing workers’ rights and the progress of social reform.
In the end, it comes down to the clear value hierarchy placed on careers in our society. Although teachers, health care providers, stay-at-home parents, and domestic service workers all contribute to the day-to-day fundamental workings and running of much of our society, they remain some of the most underpaid and underappreciated careers available.
And so, as I am placed on the precipice that stands between my college-educated aspirations (to make real my desire to provide support to people in need) and the real world possibilities of becoming a poorer post-graduate surrounded by realism and cynicism, I must decide for myself, like many other students who will graduate this year, whether I will pursue a life of economic scarcity, or whether I will realize that money is more important than I initially presumed. Or perhaps, like life itself, there remains a grey area where the possibility to combine social activism with economic stability exists, and I have yet to uncover the untold opportunities it holds.
Hannah Walker can be contacted at