Monday, May 08, 2023

On A College Graduation

 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.



  1. Most people don't DO Self-reflection. Too difficult, often painful. Reasons like "already Invested this much.." and the little lies like my job will never be outsourced to India or now AI is often denial.

    During the worldwide Great Depression my German Grandparents left their homes in failing Germany with but a bit of golden wealth from selling all they could. They went from Bankers in Germany to using some of that gold to get a job as a dockworker in NYC (Proto Unions?) to provide for them and get some American Dollars to try to get other family members out of Germany.

    Note I said TRY. Most of them even after Kristallnacht said, "We are Good (not cowardly leavers) Germans, and this will pass" and stayed through the chaos and destruction that followed. Most of that bloodline died.

    Our children grow up thinking that doing the Good American thing of higher education and such are starting off life with an anchor on their feet. Debt and little idea what jobs are really out there.

    Skillsets like a real work ethic is never taught at college, they are parent taught skills.

    I've had my friends-kids doing summer internships as to learn what they are ABOUT to spend thousands of dollars "learning" as to realize what they were going and so they could have an IN for good job performance at that first job.

    Ecclesiastes 9:10
    10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

    Colossians 3:23
    23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

    Proverbs 22:29
    29 Do you see a person skilled in his work?
    He will stand before kings;
    He will not stand before obscure people.

    The proverbs woman Chapter 31 speaks of the many side gigs an excellent woman had. No wonder how she would be declared a blessing.

    We prepare the arrow and launch it into life.

    1. Michael, both of our older two are fortunate in that they are starting their post undergraduate life with little or no debt.

      I will say that achieving high grades and high honors in school is a work ethic unto itself and transferrable.

  2. Addendum, my brother in Law was trained to become a Banker like his father. He completed his training and found it awful and too much soul sucking. He's done many jobs, kept his family doing well without Dad's assistance, raised an awesome kid with a strong work ethic and succeeded.

    Sometimes a series of little jobs and even having regular seasonal jobs can be called successful. His main jobs (2 different employers) is land surveyor. Weather and ticks are his complaints but Hes content.

    1. We often find what we do outside of what we trained. I use neither of my degrees directly in what I do.

  3. Nylon127:19 AM

    "Higher education" seems to be content to charge as much as possible for that "higher education." Those that have a work ethic entering the four years, often more, of "higher education" are most fortunate. Considering the bias prevalent on so many campuses how to play the lie won't be taught, much less even thought of.

    1. Nylon12 - It is an interesting dichotomy. We went through this in detail with our oldest and The Plague: during the online only portion of the education the university refused to reduce the tuition cost. Their argument was "we still have to pay all our people and for our facilities (which were sitting empty at the time)". The increase of rate in higher education is very well known, but oddly enough is never directly approached by most colleges. Their resolution is not to cut their tuition and housing fees (which themselves are staggering), but to recommend additional loans.

      This all works only until some form of economic collapse reveals the true value of college education (already starting to happen in the college arena, if you read current news).

  4. I have not experienced a college graduation other than my own, and I skipped the walking part and instead just went to the Mechanical Engineering social reception afterwards. But my oldest will be graduating next year from high school and I'm not looking forward to it mostly because of the crowds it brings every year. I may have to take a stiff shot of some alcohol to be able to enjoy myself.

    I sometimes ponder if it is not the colleges that are out of whack with the economy when it comes to producing degreed graduates but rather the students/parents who are out of whack. I entered engineering college and came out an engineer and promptly got a job. So many of my peers though went into degrees fuzzy about what kind of job they would find upon exiting and sure enough, had troubles finding jobs upon exiting. One, really loved history but told me many times he didn't want to be a teacher. I told him many times that meant he would be without a job upon graduation. About five years after we graduated, I met him again, working the checkout line at Walmart. I didn't say anything.

    1. Ed - For your high school graduation, best of luck. We have one coming up in three weeks; the only compensating factor is that due to the usage of the facilities, graduations cannot go more than two hours. A stiff shot may not be out of order.

      To your second point - I think it is both. I agree that unrealistic expectations about what one wants to study are part of it (indeed, I was one of those students). At the same time, universities (mostly) do not have a lot of concern/interest in making sure their graduates get jobs after college. A few do of course and there are some very active and powerful graduate networks, but in the case of both of my degrees, I got barely a "this is how to do a CV" and nothing else.

      Also - and this was true in your high school days and mine (I think we are of a same age), the push was to go to college. Other employment pathways as Michael suggests below (with the exception of the military) were at least passively discouraged. If you have spent your whole life to that point being pushed into college and then being told "pursue your dream", being ripped back to earth by "What you going to do after college? No really, what are you going to do?" would seem the equivalent of someone doomsaying your last battle. It does not make it not true though.

    2. We are within the same decade but according to Google, you may have five or six years on me. But at this point, close enough to be the same.

      Perhaps not surprising, I tend to take a compromise view on the college - blue collar debate. I still think most should take college if able to do so. It allows them options down the road and we all know that most people these days go through many jobs and maybe even a total career change at some point. But I don't think most should spend boat loads of tuition money at out of state schools and start life deeply in debt. I know several tradespeople with degrees and I do think the degrees help them stand out above their peers, especially in creativeness of solutions, who did not have degrees. But to Michael's point, if the toilet is overflowing, I'm going to take the first one available 9 times out of 10.

    3. Ed, that sounds like a balanced approach to me - given the fact that tuition is a consideration. Although I wonder if then the inverse works as well, that those college students should do some kind of occupational training or have a set of job skills as well before graduating - as you say, job changes are a reality and more often than not, I find I use those "old" skills of customer service, basic task management, and ability to cook a hamburger patty a great deal more than I tend to use my semester of Communist Cell Structure.

      I am also a fan for many (not all) doing a stint in the real world before moving directly to a graduate degree. I think that gives one experience in the field and actually makes them a stronger candidate post graduation.

    4. I'm a big fan too of the real world before degree as well. Most of my best friends in college were people who tried a career beforehand and discovered they wanted something more that needed a degree. By hanging around them, I tended to take my studies a bit more seriously. Technically, I also took a summer and a full semester off for an internship and cooperative learning jobs which did wonders in improving my comprehension of certain concepts when I returned back to school full time.

      I would think communist cell structure mandatory for everyone!

    5. Ed, I sense that MBAs are some of the most at risk for this. An MBA with a few years under the belt almost always beats a straight BA to MBA candidate. The one without the experience acts based on what they learned; the one with experience also balances that against what actually works.

      It is funny to me - given the state of the world now - that we had whole experts in Communism once upon a time.

  5. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Where will they go ? I'm not quite sure. The lucky ones will have family or friend's who own a facility who are looking to hire someone with the new graduates specialty.

    I saw within today's headlines that quite a few companies are deciding 2023 may be their final year of existence. So competition for the newly employed will be factored in.

    1. Anon - I am not sure either, and that is why the thought struck me (and thus the post). 1100 in the College graduation we went to, and almost 10,000 graduation from Nighean Bhan's university. Yes, some of them will find jobs in their industry but many of them will not.

      I had not seen that article but I will look for it. That is a staggering comment, if true (I say that. I find that likely for me current that will also be true).

  6. As I've pointed out too many who listen to this old Grandfather.

    Find what you can enjoy is mostly a matter of decisions. Do I enjoy smelling rotten flesh in surgery? NO, but I learn to be content that THAT person's life is made better by our teams' efforts. I rejoice when that new baby cries for the first time. I seek the little joys of my chosen employment.

    Nobody can make you happy, nor content, those are SELF Decisions. More often than not a successful marriage is deciding each day to LOVE that person even when they are unreasonable.

    Find a needed service you can do, and you'll do well. Average age of plumbers in my area is a bit over 50 years old. They are eager to find a excellent work ethic person to train @ around 25 dollars and hour and sponsor them for Journeyman testing in two years.

    How long do YOU WAIT when that toilets overflowing before you open that wallet for a plumber?

    Electricians' same situation.

    1. Michael, I suspect most of us do not do what we really want to do for a living. We make a peace with it and look for the benefits that come with that peace (I say that, struggling to become enthused about something I thought I had left behind three years ago).

      Almost everything one reads today is about the needs of the trades and the value therein. Most of the men that have all come to do work at The Ranch have been younger fellows, who probably make a pretty decent living. The temptations that our society has introduced are 1) We are adverse to anything that looks like manual labor; and 2) We have allowed unrealistic expectations about lifestyles to evolved. I suspect most graduates leave school thinking that a starting salary of $70,000 to $80,000 is the minimum they can expect.

  7. My first job out of college was a mess. There was a veneer of honesty and an ethic of cut corners and fib a little. I was hired as a field engineer. I worked there six months. It was a wake up call. I remember calling dad and saying I finally understood that taking care of family meant doing unpleasant work at times. I hated that place and the crooked people.

    Thankfully, I'd volunteered at a Christian radio station on Saturdays for a while. That turned quickly into a broadcast engineering position when the first job went bust. I could have done that with a 2 year degree, but the 4 year helped me a lot. Found I loved literature, had an ear for Spanish, was enamored with history, had a knack for RF and the math was mostly a joy. "A workman that needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth..." Good, well rounded, education. Also found out I am no assembly line guy. I have to have a varied workload that has a lot of surprises to keep focused. The "educational experience" is almost as much packing in knowledge as it is finding out who you are.

    My first salary out of college was almost exactly what dad retired at five years earlier.... Crazy...

    1. STxAR, it is remarkable how often those connections can turn into something else. That said, I find what you did much different than the "networking" that is so often pushed these days. You gave something and got in return; too often networking now is asking for something without offering value.

      Nighean Gheal's first salary was what I made something like 15 years into my career - and she got a hiring bonus to boot. I have never, ever in my life seen one of those.

  8. In almost half a century now, I have never had anyone ask to see my diploma. A couple times I was asked if I had one, but the only reason I put up with the graduation ceremony was for my parents sake. My pilots license has always meant more to me than my degree. I will always appreciate my classical liberal arts education, but it was the military that gave me my career in medical technology.
    My daughter has a stepson who graduates high school soon; he has one week off, and then starts a six year apprenticeship to become an electrician. To which I applauded HURRAY!

    1. Greg - My degrees are filed somewhere in my closet; very occasionally I have had to provide evidence of graduation (though not specifically for a job that I recall). My career has effectively completely come through industry training and self learning, not though my degrees as well.

      Congratulations to your daughter's stepson. An electrician is a fine career!

    2. Anonymous10:06 AM

      "My pilots license has always meant more to me than my degree."

      Same here, but I don't have a degree. I have a GED.
      The aircraft did not mind this.

    3. Congratulations on your pilot's license. Another of those "it seems fun, but I have X amount of time in the day..." things.

  9. Some time around college my Mom said it best. It teaches you to learn how to learn.

    That only works if you have the work ethic but I still believe it's true.

    Alas it is a dying INSTITUTION because of it being corrupted. The trades are where the money is these days.

    1. BCCL - It certainly can teach you how to learn. It can also teach how to do research, how to write, and how to work with different individuals to achieve a common goal, all pretty useful stuff - but yes, it is all based on the individual's work ethic.

      We are seeing the beginnings of it now. Smaller colleges are going under now, larger ones will soon start. The ones with the large endowments will be some of the last.

  10. Reading the comments and hearing so much about AI for the last week or so, I've become depressed at the world my young adults are making their way in. Two have jobs related to their degrees, one does not, but he seems content. I am happy they are all working, have a good work ethic, and are supporting themselves and even managing to save for "the future". Congrats to Nighean Bhan!

    1. Becki - First of all, thank you very much. We are very proud of her and her accomplishment.

      AI has the potential to be the sort of game changer that computers were back in the 70's and 80's. The fact is, it is already in use - I assume most of those "Can I help you" pop-ups when you go to sites are AI. As mentioned in my example, just in the field of job searches, this can have huge impacts: I suspect resume writers will find it much harder to make a living and HR departments will be constructed differently entirely.

      But it also introduces risk: if every resume and cover letter is AI generated, how does one know about the individuals? The written materials are generated for the job.

      It is likely still early - but once it becomes more developed, companies will flock to it as they are moving to automation in all other industries due to cost and (frankly) dealing with employees. The careers that will be spared - at least the longest - will be those which neither AI or automation can replace. Currently that looks a lot like the trades (I hesitate to say "manual labor", as automation in things like farming in on the horizon).

      Knowledge workers, who have benefitted most from the computer era, are now the ones most at risk.


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