Dear Class of 2012,
By now you've no doubt read report after report telling how you and your fellow graduates are entering the worst job market since the Ice Age. Perhaps you've also read the extremely strange op-ed published this past Monday by what's supposedly one of our country's finest media outlets telling you that not only are you entering a doomed and gloomy job market, but you're probably the dumbest, most ignorant and hopeless bunch of college graduates to ever walk the face of the nation (and if you haven't yet read this piece, you should, if only to find out what some of your elders in the media think you're made of).
In any case, I'm not here to hand you any further required reading (lord knows you've been given enough of that in the past four years). But what I want to tell you, at least in part, does have to do with reading. And it is this: Never forget that every piece of writing you read, whether published or unpublished, and no matter its genre—supposed fact, fiction, journalism, poetry, opinion, screenplay, teleplay, satire, blog (including this one), etc.—carries with it an agenda, vendetta and ego, among many other biases. The same goes for speeches, of course.
Second, I want to urge you to do this: NOT allow yourself to be categorized. Or labeled or boxed-in in any way. Because allowing yourself to do so will do just that (box you in) and limit you. Severely. (Although now I am tempted to provide you with a quote from an award-winning author involving the image of a leash and/or phrase about not knowing how far you can go unless you go too far, I will refrain from doing so.) Instead, I will simply urge you to fight ferociously against being labeled. Don't identify with being anything. Not a Millennial, Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, socialist, banker, lawyer, artist, barista, engineer, baker, candlestickmaker, blogger, gamer, etc. Remember, categorization and labeling are just a stone's throw away from generalization and generalizing—the soil upon which racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination flourish.
Lastly, I'd like to directly address the issue of the job market. Although it's not bright, and not going to be easy to find a job or repay your student loans (especially if a certain bill passes and you plan to take on more debt in the coming years), this could all end up being a good thing. Yes, a good thing. Here's how:
With it being more difficult than in years past to break into traditional industries and large corporations, many recent graduates will be forced to get very creative when it comes to earning their daily bread. Creative is the key word here. That is, I believe the not-so-bright job market can and will spur creativity. Businesses will be started. Products will be invented. Services will be conceived. Art will be created. All by new graduates. And I believe that many new graduates, when faced with the difficult job market, will realize that they've been given a gift and will begin to use their time searching not for jobs and careers that they think they should take and follow but ones that they actually love.
And it is my opinion that if you do something you love, then you will do it well, and if you do it well, then someone will pay you to do it.
I know what you're thinking. But if what if they don't pay me?
The answer to that is simple: Then you've failed doing something you love. Which is a heck of a lot better than succeeding at something you hate (or, at least, don't like all that much).
In any case, congratulations. And Godspeed.
Stephens: To the Class of 2012 (WSJ)