A recent statistic from the U.S. Department of Education’s blog suggests that about 78 percent of 4 million freshmen graduated in 2010. Statistics from the current 2013 graduating class is still being processed but looks to be just as promising. So, a big congratulations is in order for all of the recent graduates all over the country. Yet, a question that I think many of those graduates as well as previous graduates have is-well…”what’s next?” It is true that some will go off to college, and some will embrace a combination of college as well as the workforce. But what about this next phase of life?
What do they do about relationships, pairing up, finding a career, being financially responsible….or perhaps having children, and when is “the right time” to start talking about that stuff? Does it just magically come together, or is there some sort of conscious effort that goes into it?
My wife and I met in college during the start of my senior year and we were married a couple of weeks before I graduated, but some of my peers didn’t have that experience. I honestly believe that luck and recognizing a great opportunity played a role in it on my part. We decided to build our lives together, and have a child 2 years later, while at the beginning of our careers. But that doesn’t mean that this path didn’t present its own share of difficulties. Yet we still have conversations about how to advise our daughter on when is the “right time” in which she should think about those sorts of things because there are so many things that we could have done differently.
For example, there are some experts that feel that the best time to start looking and dating is during the latter half of your teenage years as maturing sets in, and you are slowly matriculating into adulthood, (graduating from highschool, moving onto college, etc.). Also, there are others that feel that working on this stage of life is best after you’ve built a successful career. However, if you ask anyone that has built a decent career in any field, it took a lot of the risk taking energy that’s there when you’re in your 20’s to experience by 40 what you could call “success.” So who would want to stop and talk about “family” while your career is on the rise-not to mention the physical and emotional challenges that come along with having kids later in life. Therefore both perspectives present various challenges.
One thing that is for certain, idealistic statements that aren’t grounded in realistic facts will do more harm than good. It’s not enough to be told by your parents that you can do anything you set your mind to unless that guardian can help reveal traits about your character that could help you discover what specific career paths or “life paths” to take. Giving broad and open ended statements like that are like handing a small piece of wood to a man stuck in the middle of an ocean, when in reality…he needs a huge motorboat!
In American educational institutions, we don’t have a strong emphasis on the how to gracefully matriculate into your 20’s and actually provide for yourself after graduation. And what ends up happening in colleges across the country is that employers will be swamped with a class of graduates who have idealistic majors that have no applicability to high-end demand jobs in the real world.
Perhaps we need more classes on how to navigate the waters of employment, under-employment and unemployment instead of more emphasis on Charles Dickens’ novels and on five page papers on British literature. Yet that does not mean that an expanded world view does not have its place-in fact, interdisciplinary education is very necessary in overall development.
But, if we don’t give this new class guidance on how to avoid some of the realities that older adults are facing, we will subject them to the same experiences that older adults are facing right now. And these issues range from: budgetary issues, credit worthiness, rising daycare costs for childcare, under-employment, unemployment, interpersonal relationship building….and the list goes on!
Since the 1950’s, the number of married couples in America have dropped to about half of the whopping 80% quoted back then. Society was different and expectations were different; which affected the behavior of teenagers during that time. In fact the word teenager itself can be arguably said to have been introduced into mainstream culture during the mid 40’s-50’s, and maybe even as early as the 20’s. So we have definitely got to wake up and recognize that this area of development isn’t something that you just haphazardly pass through.
What’s very interesting about this very delicate stage of life is that although many of us graduate from solid institutions and we are proficient in utilizing the latest technology- we really aren’t fully prepared for the world outside of our educational institutions. The period of development spanning late teenage years to early 20’s is marked by constant change. You are discovering who you are, building new relationships and whether you know it or not, the financial, emotional, and interpersonal decisions that you make during those years will shape and mold the next stage of your life….or it could put a serious twist on how that next stage unfolds.
Whether we place more responsibility on parents, or we place more emphasis on our schools and educational systems to incorporate more “realistic” coursework, something has to be done.
What if our younger students were developed and placed on a career track before those very important 4 years of undergrad? What if our younger students were really educated about the importance of relationships outside of those awkward 2 minute conversations from their parents? Or what type of generation would we produce if students learned the ins-and-outs of, fiscal and credit worthiness before they were adults who needed to buy a car or a house?
As a 20 something, I know what would happen: we would change culture and society-for the better.
Jesse Herriott, M.A. is a 20-something writer, teacher & ordained priest. With A Masters in Criminology & Doctoral work in Depth Psychology, Jesse’s public work crosses the boundaries of culture, race, education, and religion. Jesse’s writings have appeared in both print, online, & independent magazines and journals around the world. And he hosts a weekly Radioshow on Unity Online Radio called “Living on Purpose.” Follow him on the web at www.jessherriott.com , Twitter @jessherriott & Facebook at facebook.com/jesse.herriott