Philadelphia Metropolis


Ye Shall Know the Truth...

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Greetings and salutations to the Class of 2012.

I am delighted to be here today as commencement speaker at St. Josephat College and I want to thank your president, Father Malloy, for inviting me and for the Starbucks gift card. As an aside, I want to remind Father of my no refunds policy.

I know there was some disappointment on the part of the speaker's committee that your first choice could not be here today, but, as I am sure you can understand, Kim Kardashian is a very busy person. Sometimes in life, you can't always get your No. 1 choice and you must settle, as in your case, for No. 38

The text for my speech today comes from the New Testament. The Book of John, chapter 8, verse 32: "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

The truth is that while your formal schooling ends today, your education will continue. You can look forward to a lifetime of discovery and one of the first things you will discover is that there are no jobs out there. None. Zero. Nada.

At least no good ones, not for liberal arts graduates with no work experience, except for that weekly stint at the library reception desk.

The good jobs are being taken by the folks who graduated 10 years ago, got laid off during the recession, and now are clawing their way back into the work world. And I do mean claw.

They have experience. You don't. It's as simple as that.


Oh, and there are no internships either.  The kids who graduated three year ago are holding onto them, clinging to the shred of hope that they will turn into fulltime positions. Somehow. Someday.  So they continue to work for free - a kind of voluntary servitude, subsidized by their parents.

The jobs out there that you can get used to be called "menial" but have been spruced up to become "entry level positions" -- busboy, dishwasher, warehouse worker, landscaper, etc.

If you get one of these jobs, you will find that most of your co-workers never went to college. Some do not even have high school degrees. But, your four years in college have given you things they will never have.  For one thing, you know who John Paul Sartre is and they don't.  For another, you have $45,000 in student loans and they don't.

If you want to work with fellow college graduates, go to your local coffee shop and get a job as a barista.

When you think of it, the rapid growth in the coffee-house sector of our economy has had profound and lasting effects on the lives of college students, as they transition from being customers to employees, providing virtual full employment for the nation's Philosophy, English Lit and Anthropology majors. 

Work in a coffee house and you will be surrounded by people who not only know who John Paul Sartre is, but have actually read Sartre, and therefore know that the feeling they have inside is not heartburn from the espresso, but existential angst.

Speaking of angst, I want to give a shout out to the parents in the audience. Good work Mom and Dad. I know that a lot of you had expected that after four years of higher education and $160,000 in tuition and fees, your progeny would be headed off into the world of work, get married, buy a home and make you proud grandparents.

That is not to be, not in this decade at least. And maybe not in the next.

But, dear graduates, your parents have adjusted accordingly to the new realities.  They've kept your room just as you left it - even the Michael Jordan poster.  They did have to get rid of those dozen or so four-foot tall participation trophies from soccer and baseball - because they were dust collectors and because they sent the wrong message.  In life, you don't get an award just for showing up.

Your parents, I am confident to say, are willing to let you live rent free, eat their food, drink their beer. They will offer encourage when you are down.  Some pocket money when you are totally broke.

All they ask in exchange is that you vow to care for them in their dotage.  Though, I must warn you, dotage lasts way longer these days than it ever has.  Through the miracle of modern medicine, we may live deep into our 90's.  That's a lot of trips up the steps to serve us our morning oatmeal, then dressing us so we can go for our little walkie.

I assure you, we will be grateful for your devotion, even though we may not remember who the hell you are.

If I had to give one piece of advice to you graduates, it would be this: floss.  Floss at least twice a day.  It will prevent gum disease and you don't want gum disease.  The treatment is painful and gum surgery costs about $8,000 to $10,000.  And, since you won't have dental coverage, it could devour your meager nest egg. So, floss.

I think this is the part of the speech where I should tell you to go forth into the world.  But, I won't.  If I were you, I wouldn't go forth.  I would stay here, in the comfortable bubble that is St. Josephat's.  Get a cheap apartment, an on-campus job and take a few extra courses. Party hardy.

Hunker down and wait out these tough economic times. Three to five years ought to do it.

Oh, and while you are at it, learn Mandarin.

-- Tom Ferrick


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