Dear Class of 2012: Now What?
Although there’s talk of the job market improving since this recession began, there’s still a haze of bleak statistics hanging in the air. Last year, half of all bachelor degree-holders under 25 were unemployed or underemployed. Even though the overall median salaries for recent grads increased by 4.5% in 2012, the total student loan debt is estimated to be somewhere between $867 billion and over $1 trillion.
Despite these discouragements, a good commencement speaker at graduation can help cut through some of the numbers, provide a laugh, and maybe even stick with you when you’re confronting “the real world.” It’s that power of positive speech that lead Phoebe Connelly, a senior editor at Yahoo! News, to create Dear Class of 2012 in conjunction with Yahoo’s reporting on the millions of young adults now entering the workforce. Here’s what she had to say about the project so far, plus her own advice to graduates.
When you graduated, what was your situation like?
I graduated from DePaul University in 2003. Actually, I didn’t go to my graduation. That’s why it’s so funny that I put together this project. I had studied abroad, so I had to do an extra fall semester. I could have gone to the commencement exercises next spring, but I was already working at that time. In fact, I skipped my ceremony and heard Seymour Hersh at the University of Chicago; it was right after he had broken the Abu Ghraib story in The New Yorker.
So I skipped my own commencement and said that this is my commencement: hearing this amazing journalist talk about this very troubling piece of history. He talked about his work, what he’s produced, integrity, and about being a journalist. Those were abstract lessons that I kept with me when trying to find a job or struggling to make ends meet. Maybe that’s because I selected my own “commencement,” but those lessons stuck with me as I tried to find work and get myself established.
How would you compare what you and the class of 2003 faced to what the class of 2012 is facing?
I think that depends upon your economic perspective. I remember I was so focused on just trying to get a job and sort out all the little details of real life that start right after graduation. When I graduated, I juggled two internships and I was working at a coffee shop. It was the classic post-graduation lifestyle, but I feel very fortunate. I decided to follow what I love and pursued journalism.
What do you mean by “economic perspective?”
The numbers are discouraging: the rising debt, the joblessness rate, or even numbers like how much a business can pay its interns. The class of 2012 as whole is entering the workforce and that’s a given, but that picture of the workforce isn’t particularly rosy.
If you look at my industry — journalism — you can see all these papers that have been closing. For example, the Times-Picayunejust laid off a lot of their employees down in New Orleans. When you have institutions like that closing down, you’re limiting the opportunities for people to just dive in and do an internship when they graduate. A lot of people now are moving to the East Coast or bigger cities, but the job markets are still difficult.
What do you make of people saying that the job market is really bad or really good, with little nuance in between?
I just want to go back to hearing and telling individual stories. It’s one thing to say here are the job numbers, but it’s another thing to drill down and talk to people who are fitting into these abstract number brackets. I want to ask them about paying back their student loans or getting a master’s degree that they hope will push them forward. As an editor, I want to crowdsource and work with my reporters to find those stories and tell them.
What lead you to create Dear Class of 2012?
At Yahoo! News, we have meetings about upcoming events, like most news organizations. We were talking about how to build out[the story package about the graduating class and what social elements we wanted to develop around it, when I asked, “What if we built a Tumblr with some of the best quotes, and we can link them back to our site?” We have a lot of commencement speeches that we put up on Yahoo! News, but if we couldn’t get the speech or it was elsewhere, we would link out to other sources.
I liked the idea that when you listen to a speech, there will be that moment when the speaker will say one quote that really sticks with you. It’s the idea of taking these funny, hopeful or insightful moments that are generally just shared with the people watching the speeches, and turning it in to something that anyone can share.
And what’s the response been like so far?
It’s been really interesting. I just love seeing the comments when they reblog. You don’t always see that with Twitter, where someone can just copy the link. Comments are built into the ecosystem on Tumblr, so you can see what they add to it. One of our most reblogged posts is the Oprah quote, which I love. It catches in my throat every time I read it because the idea of embracing what’s been given to you by all the people who have put in the hard work is really powerful.
Is that your favorite post or submission?
It’s a toss-up between the Oprah quote and the Ed Catmull quote— he’s the president of Pixar. It speaks to me, and I’m 31 years old. His speech is for someone who is fresh out of college, but that’s the best part of these commencement speeches. They’re still applicable to any age.
Do you have your own personal commencement-style sentiment that you’d like to offer to recent graduates?
Leave a good tip. It’s important to me, because I worked in service for so long. That’s the best thing you can do. You’re making someone else’s life a little better, and that’s always worth it.
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