Commencement season: Career and life launches yesterday and today

Screenshot from On The Set of New York site

Screenshot from On The Set of New York site

“When Harry Met Sally,” the 1989 romantic comedy starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, and directed by Rob Reiner, easily makes my list of the top New York City movies. It’s like a great Woody Allen movie without the unease over Woody, blending endearing performances with classic Manhattan locations and musical standards performed by Harry Connick, Jr.

In fact, among the most nostalgic bumps for me are the opening scenes, when Harry and Sally meet up for the first time on the campus of the University of Chicago, following their graduation. A mutual friend has facilitated their shared drive to New York City, where they both are moving. They get to know each other during their trip and don’t exactly hit it off. They part company at Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, not to see each other again for several years.

Now, I neither attended the University of Chicago nor shared a long car ride to New York with Sally Albright/Meg Ryan. But a year after graduating from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, I would leave for law school at New York University in Greenwich Village. So I can relate to the life transitions captured by Harry and Sally’s drive to New York.


With the calendar turning to May, we are now approaching graduation season. Okay, so I’m not a big fan of commencement ceremonies. With notable exceptions (such as here and here), the speeches and remarks tend to be banal and forgettable.

But I have enjoyed those stretches of time that embrace endings and beginnings. I spent my final undergraduate semester in a life-changing study abroad program in England. I spent my final law school semester participating in several rewarding extracurricular activities, with a post-graduate job already awaiting my arrival. Being a nostalgic creature by nature, I can easily get soggy thinking of both.


Increasingly, however, the making of these sentimental memories are the province of the more fortunate. The classic “college experience” became the American middle class ideal during the second half of the last century, but rising tuition levels have rendered it less of a reality today. During the past ten years, especially, heavy student debt and the entry-level job market have been understandably ratcheting up the anxieties of soon-to-be graduates. In essence, the supposed “blast-off years” of one’s early twenties are now loaded down with a lot of ballast.

With heavy student debt, unpaid internships, and the like, America has front loaded the costs of getting one’s start in life. Many culprits have contributed to this state of affairs. The higher education industry, our political and governmental infrastructures, corporate hiring practices, and student loan vendors — among other stakeholders — all share responsibility. Until we summon the collective will to change this state of affairs, higher levels of debt and anxiety will continue to accompany new graduates as they collect their diplomas on graduation day.

2 responses

  1. Yes, I will graduate with my PhD in Industry & Organizational psychology the end of this year and it is really weighing on me that I will have to begin massive monthly payment the beginning of 2017. I’m beginning to think I did not think things through very well. In my mind, I am in my 30s, but in reality I am 60. In my mind, I have a life ahead of me with much to give. In reality, I was just diagnosed with lupus, which I’ve had my whole life and didn’t know it, and my energy levels are not what I would like. Regardless, I think I have more to give than someone half my age because of my life experiences. I just need to squeeze it in a little faster!

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