What comes after?

Steve Nordin

“What Comes After?” This is the question that can kill a conversation with upperclassmen. Freshmen can blissfully ignore it, as they have a few years until they are shunted out into the threatening wilderness known as “The Real World”.
Upperclassmen, on the other hand, will likely offer one of two responses. First, a discomforting rapture may overcome him or her as he or she, with glazed eyes, explains a vision of a master’s degree in Celtic Environmental Literature at Eden University. The other option is that you may realize you’ve intruded into some private purgatory where the response is “I don’t know.”
There are a few potential causes of pre-post-graduate distress. Perhaps it is the nagging voice in the back of your head that says, “You can’t get a job with a liberal arts degree.” Maybe it stems from the daily reminders of how bad the job market is going to be when you graduate.
I hate to say it, but the world doesn’t need 50,000 professors of Celtic Environmental Literature. Why is the omnipresent question “What are you doing after college?” so threatening to Lawrentians?
I know that I’ve traveled down that nasty little line of questioning. It is unsettlingly easy to envision myself getting a degree, working at Walgreens on College Avenue and going home to Hortonville, Wis. Staring at the abyss is terrifying.
So why should we not fear the future? Without sounding like a high school guidance counselor, maybe we should reassess our values and goals.
Note: Educational, vocational and school counselors will experience a 14 percent increase in employment by 2018, especially in rural areas. This is faster than average employment growth, according to the 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When I was working at Reunion Weekend this summer, I met an alumnus of the class of 1970. He was born a suburban, white, middle-class kid, like so many of us are. Between matriculation and graduation, something happened. Maybe it was the individualized learning, maybe it was Appleton, maybe it was the cultural turmoil, but regardless, something changed in him.
He became a social worker in Harlem, a missionary in Kenya and is now an Episcopalian priest in Puerto Rico. He definitely didn’t major in Getting-My-Degree Studies or sign up for the Pre-Job-That-Pays-The-Rent program.
People can’t go to Lawrence to major in communications, business or any other branch of vocational studies. We are here to gain knowledge, not just a degree. I will forgo Plato’s cave metaphor because I think I reached my limit last year using it in late-night “deep” conversations with other freshmen.
You will not learn the basic skills of an entry-level job at a liberal arts college. You will have the capacity to be a leader, not just an employee. Lawrentians’ refrain of “I’m really busy” is something that won’t change after accumulating their 216 credits. Those who have the character and the skills to deal with stress, question norms, analyze perspectives and innovate are the people who will rise.
If you look at the Lawrence alumni list on Wikipedia, you won’t see “mediocre hacky-sack player ” or “aspiring homeless musician” next to their names. Instead, it will list politicians, business leaders, activists, academics, musicians and scientists. Somehow, they accomplished enough to be lauded by the unseen arbiters of online fame.
You don’t need to have fame or fortune after graduating from Lawrence, but you will need the means to engage intellectually with modern society. Lawrence breeds critics and inventors, both of whom are needed by the world.
Are corporate bandits trashing the moral well being of your nation? Do something about it. Is your post-graduate job ethically repulsive? Quit. Is it inefficient? Improve it.
We will have what the “Real World” demands of us. Throw yourself fully into the maelstrom that is Lawrence and you will be able to achieve greatness in whatever you care about, CEO or activist. Don’t worry about your major’s employment statistics, worry about whether you are happy doing it. Don’t concern yourself with your Four Year Plan, concern yourself with your environment in four years.
What comes after? Don’t sweat it. Perhaps academia, government service, volunteerism, corporate America or the poet laureateship of Hortonville. Whatever it is, if you are content, you will excel. So go ahead, get that Celtic Environmental Literature degree. We’ll chat about it with pride at Walgreens.