As I lined up for the history department's graduation ceremony, the professor who taught my least favorite class in my final semester bumped into me. She turned and I watched as her expression instantly transformed from annoyance to confusion. "Matt, you're graduating? I wish I would have known, your grade for my class would have been a little better." I had absolutely phoned in my efforts for Modern Latin America, a class that neither counted towards my major nor was it required for liberal learning. After accidentally misreading my program planner, and, thinking I needed a South America course to complete my major, I wasted my final college course on her boring class. But she didn't know any of that. "Thanks," I said, "I passed, so that's all that matters."
Yes, I've completed my college education. Like millions of others across the nation, I, too, was forced to wear a black cellophane cap and gown while enduring extreme temperatures. I was packed into a football stadium, where I had to listen to faculty, students, and guest speakers drone on about how lucky I was to graduate during the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.
In fact, a terrible economy has been the signature motif of my senior year. In my final semester, I wrote a 26 page thesis comparing our time to the Great Depression. I wrote articles on how the economy was negatively affecting my part time job, how it was forcing my little sister to choose military service over a college career, and how my fellow graduates were moving home or incurring further debts in post-graduate programs because of slim job prospects.
I'm moving home. I have no job and no money. It feels a lot like the plot of a Broadway show or those stories that immigrant great-grandparents tell. "I arrived in New York with the clothes on my back and $12 in my pocket," they say. What will I tell my great-grand kids? "I arrived home with a fancy piece of paper and a mountain of debt," I'll say. It doesn't really have the same ring to it.
I sat near the back during the ceremony, right in front of a professor who has been a member of the department since 1958. Having to sit through the pomp and circumstance fifty-one times makes the whole thing a lot less significant, I learned, because he was whispering loudly to a fellow faculty member throughout the duration of the ceremony. "They should teach them how to fold their diploma into a paper hat," he chuckled, "Then they can use it when they apply at a fast food place." I turned to him and smiled. "I hope mine comes with instructions on how to fold a paper airplane," I said. Then I walked up and smiled for the camera.