More than 600 local college students at Albany State University and Darton State College reached a magical milestone in their lives this weekend when they strode to a podium — strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background — and received diplomas that bestowed on them a new title: college graduate.
Hundreds of local high school students will follow suit in the coming days as they accept diplomas that signify they’ve taken a giant step toward adulthood.
For many of the college and high school graduates who celebrate with their proud families and gather with groups of friends for what may well be the last time, the exhilaration that they’re feeling is tempered somewhat by a compelling, nagging thought: What comes next?
For high school graduates, the choice boils down to college or work. Of course, that’s no simple choice. There is no shortage of colleges — traditional and vocational — promising to prepare students for their chosen professions. The question for many, though, is how do I — or my family — afford tuition costs that have skyrocketed in recent years?
Those who decide to forego college, for reasons of finance or indifference, must thus face the reality that today’s job market offers little more than unskilled labor opportunities for those without advanced training. Certainly there are exceptions, but it’s becoming ever more rare to find successful members of this country’s work force that have not received some form of training beyond high school.
For college graduates, the choices they must now make are a bit more immediate. While America’s economy has indeed shown signs of general recovery, it is a recovery that has been painfully slow, one that has impacted specific sectors more so than overall improvement. The question for these mostly twenty-somethings is how do I use the degree that I’ve just earned as a pathway to a life’s career? Unfortunately, employment opportunities in America have not exactly kept pace with the overall economic uptick. For every newly anointed graduate who walks the stage, there are several unemployed — or underemployed — workers in the same field, sending out resumes and filling out applications at the same places you are.
Sadly, except for a fortunate few, the days of simply trading in a graduation cap and gown for the tools of a lucrative trade are all but over. Perhaps for the first time in the history of our country, getting the college degree is the easy part. The real hard work begins when they start the search for their place in the work force.
So, graduates, bask in the glow of your accomplishments and your loved ones’ congratulations. Accept all those pats on the back; you’ve earned them. But as soon as the parties are over and the loved ones have bid you farewell, you’re entering a whole new world.
It’s called adulthood. Welcome.