This weekend Nighean Bhan graduated from college - not the actual completion of the degree mind you, that happened in December of last year. This was the "walking" portion of the process, where the graduate goes through and gets the public recognition for their accomplishment.
I was a little hesitant about going - this is by far the largest event I have attended in over three years and the first college graduation since 2019. Overall it was fine - long (over three hours) and what I would consider any sort of non-related social constructs and thoughts kept to a bare minimum. The keynote speaker's address was short, amusing, and the sort of thing one can just as easily get online in a 15 minute inspirational living value. Other than the press of people making their way out (which set off every panic button that I possess), it was an endurable experience.
The thing that made me really think was not the ceremony, but rather the graduates.
This was an undergraduate only event, and yet there were likely 1100 individuals at this event to graduate, scattered among four or five different departments within the larger college. I am sure there was the usual mix of students here: the overachievers, the very devoted, the "doing it for my family", the lower achievers that met the minimum requirements, and those that staff breathed a sigh of relief as they crossed the platform (there are always a few). All now armed with immaculate diplomas to be mounted in frames on walls or stuffed in closets to be forgotten.
Whither will the graduates go?
I do not ask this question to detract from the accomplishment - completing a college program is a big deal and a life investment of time and resources (having been through two degrees, I know as well as any). I do ask it based on the world we live in today.
Colleges over the next month or so will be releasing college students into the economic ecosystem. In 2020 (The most recent year I found) a little over 2,000,000 undergraduates took a degree. Assuming that includes B.S., B.A, and A.A. that is still a lot of (mostly) young people flooding out into the world. Some will continue on of course to graduate school (Nighean Bhan is one), but others will be moving directly into the world of work.
What world will they wander into?
One of the great complaints about the U.S. college system is that it is disconnected from the actual needs of the economy. We pump out all kinds of degreed individuals: English, Psychology, Science, Math, Communication, Journalism, Political Science (Those losers - I was one of them). They arrive, some of them knowing precisely what they are going to do, others (like me) having no idea what they are going to do.
But the world is different - different than when I graduated, even different within the last ten years.
When I graduated the global economy was just taking root; now one completes (literally) with the entire world. Robotics had begun to automate many tasks considered "drudgery"; we are now in the very early stages of Artificial Intelligence automating many tasks considered "skilled" and "educated". I have already considered the fact that within 10 years, likely Artificial Intelligence can do 90% of what I performed as a project manager: create and track timelines, follow up with emails, track spending, assign invoices. Practically speaking, $1.00 when I graduated with my BA is now $0.42 - not a great trend when prices are only continuing up, not down.
I am sure they are educational as prepared as a large prestigious university can make them. But are they prepared for the world as it is today, not even the world as it was when they started college?
If anything, life teaches us that we need to play it as it lies. Seldom (if ever) are we offered the opportunity to pick our ball up and move it on the playing field. Sometimes, the "lay" works in our favor; other times it does not. Either way, we have to take the next swing.
I wonder - in that sea of individuals literally bursting forth upon the world - how many truly grasp that fact.