Modern American Youth are notoriously referred to as Generation Y or Millennials. Attempts to name and define our generation have mostly come from those who are not members of this generation. Our identity as a group, as a demographic, as a social class: it must come from within. We cannot let the world tell us who we are; we must assert our own identity. We are Modern American Youth. I call us the MAY Generation. This name not only serves as an acronym for our demographic, but it also refers to the month of May—the time of year when many of us who have completed a college degree are tossed into a world that offers little in the area of employment. May is the month in which we are unleashed into a world that is simply not ready for us.
Part I: The Struggle
I have often heard people joke that the only jobs for college graduates these days are barista positions at Starbucks. Though this remark is often made in jest, it rings true to my ears as I have met many of my fellow young people who complain about their crappy low wage jobs. They should complain. They—we—have every right to be upset. The MAY Generation has incurred debts from either college or credit cards, or both, that near the cost of a car or even a small mortgage. Many have taken on this debt for the sake of higher education—an education that supposedly ensures better job opportunities upon its completion. There are several articles available to read on research that states that those who have a college degree will make more money in their lifetime because the work offered at that level pays significantly more than not having a degree would earn.[i] Under more stable economic circumstances, this assertion would be true. With growing debt and few prospects for a reliable income, many among the MAY Generation are questioning whether the college degree was worth it in the first place. Many of us are angry or may feel betrayed because of the lack of employment and the ever-rising cost of college. ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ is a question I often hear. So what are we doing? How is our generation coping with the unfulfilled promise of higher education?
The truth is that instead of competing with other college graduates for entry level jobs, today’s college graduates are competing not only with each other, but with others among our generation who have not completed a college degree, for minimum or middle wage jobs. This competition in turn only adds to the unemployment issue.
However, beyond the competition for barista positions, the MAY Generation is seeking out ways to defer or pay down debt or to gain job experience through unpaid internships or community service oriented opportunities. One such path is Teach for America. In 2009 around 35,000 applications were received for 4,100 possible positions. Last year the number of applicants increased by 11,000 to a total of 46,000 applications for only 4,400 openings. Back in 2006 there were only 19,000 applicants for 2,400 positions. The number of applicants has more than doubled whereas the number of available positions has yet to do so, even though there has been a noticeable increase in Teach For America opportunities.[ii] Others among the MAY Generation are joining the Peace Corps or partaking in other long-term commitment community service programs like Americorps or City Year in order to stave off debt or to wait for the job market to bounce back.
More and more I hear of recent graduates who are leaving the U.S. to teach English in another country (many to East Asian countries like Korea where the demand for native English speakers is high). The ‘Teach English Overseas’ gig is growing very popular from what I’ve gathered. It’s an exciting prospect for many because of the traveling and the ability to renew terms in case one chooses to stay longer. A large number of recent graduates among the MAY Generation are also going back to school almost immediately in order to not only continue to defer debt, but also to wait out the job market and try again to find a job when yet another degree has been earned and even more debt incurred.
Still—many among the MAY Generation are stuck in dead end jobs, continuously exploring the barren wasteland of entry level job opportunities. Discouragement spreads quickly when so many have so little hope. But this is no time for despair. This is a time for self-betterment—a time to get creative. With spare time building up between applying for jobs, or the lingering hours after a day at some in between job, or the time spent traveling—all this left over time breeds uncertainty.
I say, embrace the uncertainty. Harness it. Channel it towards something positive, something creative, something that exemplifies those parts of yourself that lay in wait while you do the things you must. Unleash those parts of yourself that a world built of hopelessness would aim to crush. Our generation has an opportunity to reach out to one another, to forge a connection because of our shared struggles. We have an unprecedented opportunity to come together and make our place in society and in this world—to show everyone what we’re really made of. The MAY Generation is smart, resourceful, creative, spirited, and adventurous. It’s time to harness those traits and put them to use in order to realize our collective social power and cultural influence. It’s time to start the MAY Movement.
Part II: The Movement
When I say ‘movement’ I do not mean marching in the streets with signs chanting “Employment Now! Employment Now!” We are not a labor union. But we cannot sit idly by. Inaction is not an option. Our movement is not a political one, but rather a social and cultural one. Consider what the MAY Generation is already doing to occupy their time: community service projects and teaching stateside and overseas. These pursuits are altruistic in nature and have a positive social and cultural impact. We have already started the movement; what we need now is to make our efforts widespread. One of our greatest assets is the fact that there are so many of us. Power in numbers, right? But like any movement that aims to be successful, we must first have goals and a sense of direction. What are those goals? In what direction are we, or should we aim to head?
The greatest obstacle that we face in pursuing this movement is not imposed upon us like the forces of nature or of the economy. Our greatest obstacle is overcoming the uncertainty within ourselves that has built up as a result of our uncertain place in the world. The first goal of the MAY Movement is to embrace uncertainty. What do I mean by that? How does one embrace uncertainty? The answer is remarkably simple: to embrace uncertainty is to accept it. The only way to accept it is to understand that our uncertain place in this world is actually a tremendous freedom. The author Andre Gide said “to know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one’s freedom.” For us this means that to realize our freedom is the easy part; it’s what we should do with it that poses the real challenge.
The second goal of the MAY Movement aims to meet that challenge. As I said previously, this is a time to get creative, to exemplify what you’re good at; this is a time for self-betterment. How do you do that? You find ways to keep up with the things you want to do. Let me say that again, keep up with the things you want to do. So often I hear people our age say, “I work at blah place doing blah, but what I really want to do is this…” “What I really want to do is…” Don’t talk about wanting to do it. Do it. Make it a personal project. Maybe you’re an artist and you’d like to put your work out there: find a blog or an organization or a publication that needs some artistic know-how. Maybe you’ll write for a blog or for a free subjective publication like the Johnsonville Press—who knows! The point is to gain experience doing what you want to do. It may not be paid, but it’s a way to get better at what you want to do, to practice, to help out someone else who needs what you can offer. Let’s say for example that you speak a foreign language, but you can’t afford to travel: you could offer yourself as a private tutor at a local high school or middle school (perhaps even your old high school if you live at home). Many cities also have embassies and cultural centers that offer events, courses and various opportunities to meet and converse with people who also want to maintain their language. Whatever your trade, hobby or area of interest, you should seek out places where you can put them to use. Maybe you can make a little side money from these projects. You can even start something of your own creation and become an entrepreneur.
Just think for a second about the skills that our generation has that don’t even come from the education system. The MAY Generation is on the up when it comes to social media. That is a marketable skill. Just think about how many small businesses lack good social networking, like a Facebook page, or even a maintained website. You can help them with that while at the same time gaining valuable experience and building a network of people you’ve helped. The goal of these suggestions is to show you that there are many ways to keep up with the things you want to do.
By pursuing these personal projects you are opening the door to the third goal of the MAY Movement: networking. Networking is about mingling. It’s about conversing with people, giving them a sense of who you are and what you’re about. It’s about reading people and learning to understand the dynamics of professional and socially professional situations. If you want to be successful at networking you need to be a good observer. Good observations lead to good talking points in a conversation. You should also definitely get business cards that tell people who you are and what you do. Keep it simple; you can even design them yourself if that’s your trade. The exchange of business cards is always a good conversation starter. Networking helps you develop your conversational skills so that you become really good at telling people who you are. This is a particularly valuable asset in a job interview. Some people call it “knowing how to sell yourself,” but I’d say it’s more like “knowing how to confidently talk about yourself”. You are not for sale. Anyone who tells you that you are, you should avoid. If you can show someone that you know who you are, if you can assert yourself like that, then people are going to notice you. Confidence stands out.
Ultimately networking not only helps you develop your conversational skills and build a network of like-minded people, but it also leads to the fourth goal of the MAY Movement: Build a community. When pursuing these personal projects, I implore you to reach out to others in our generation. We can help each other and we can help other people. The most important thing to understand about this fourth goal is it’s meant to bring us together as a group—put us all on the same wave length so that we’re in tune enough to knowingly steer American culture. That is our power.
I say this to you: Don’t expect the world to give you what you’re looking for; a lot of the time you have to make it work for you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. There will always be haters and appreciators. Put that aside. This is our moment. You can choose to commit to it or not. You can choose to do something creative for yourself or not. Embrace your freedom or let it pass? It’s your choice. I choose to embrace it. I will continue to do so here at the Johnsonville Press. And the Johnsonville Press will continue to be a space for the free exchange of ideas, a platform for anyone who chooses to pursue their personal projects in a public setting. We are already a part of the MAY Movement, and I invite you to join us.
More than anything, I implore you, the MAY Generation–my generation–to pursue your passions, to create opportunities for yourself, and to assert yourself in this world. Only then can we take our place in society as the social and cultural powerhouse that we truly are. Finally, you must remember that you are not alone in your pursuits. We all share these struggles. Lean on the people around you. The MAY Movement will be the most successful if we help each other out. For that reason, I am personally available to any of you who need guidance, advice, suggestions, or just someone to bounce ideas off of. Write to me and Iwill write back.[iii] I want to see this happen and I will do everything in my power to see that our generation finds success in the pursuit of our passions. Good luck my friends. I look forward to hearing from you.
[i] Benefits of College Education: 1.http://www.collegetocareers.com/10-benefits-college-education-2/; 2.http://education.yahoo.net/articles/college_degree_benefits.htm;
[ii] Teach for America:http://www.teachforamerica.org/newsroom/documents/PressKit_Overview.pdf;http://www.teachforamerica.org/admissions/;http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/05/28/national/main5046901.shtml
[iii] Please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I sincerely hope to hear from you.
Photo courtesy of davidmusingsthoughts.blogspot.com