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by Derek Loosvelt | May 30, 2012


Today I was planning on blogging about an article that was published last week in The Wall Street Journal on the proliferation of liberal-arts colleges requiring students to take classes in entrepreneurship, business, and managing their (future) careers. But while doing further research for this blog I came across an article on the sudden death of 22-year-old Yale graduate Marina Keegan, whose many accomplishments in her short life, I soon learned, included writing a column for The New York Times last fall, at the beginning of her senior year at Yale.

The column, published by the Times' Dealbook blog, focused on Wall Street recruiting, and I remembered it. I also remembered how thought-provoking and well written it was. However, I didn't remember that it was written by an undergraduate, and was surprised to learn that it was.

In any case, after feeling greatly saddened by the death of someone so young (and someone so ambitious who already had accomplished so much and who appeared to have an incredibly bright future ahead of her) I went back and re-read Keegan's article. And it's that article, which touches on several important points, I'd like to say a few words about today.

First, I'd like to point to a paragraph near the beginning of the column in which Keegan writes:

When I arrived at Yale as an eager 18 year old, I had never even heard of consulting or I-banking. And to be honest, I still didn’t totally understand the function of a hedge fund. But what I do understand is that students here have passion. Passion for public service and education policy and painting and engineering and entrepreneurialism. Standing outside a freshman dorm, I couldn’t find a single student aspiring to be a banker – but at commencement this May, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll be sitting next to one. This strikes me as incredibly sad.

What also strikes me as incredibly sad is not only that nobody, not even Yale students, can explain the function of a hedge fund (okay, maybe Bridgewater's Ray Dalio can), but also that I remember when I arrived, many moons ago, at the University of Pennsylvania as a 17-year-old although, like Keegan, I too had never heard of heard of consulting or I-banking, unlike Keegan I soon started to hear quite a bit about some company called Goldman Sachs. In fact, I remember very well when a guy at the end of my freshman hall, who was also a freshman, told me, during our first month of our first year at college, that he was aiming to get a summer internship at this Goldman Sachs (which, to me, sounded like the name of a cartoon character, or a law firm). And when I asked him to repeat the name of the firm and to tell me what the firm did, he looked at me like I most definitely did not belong at an institution of higher learning (which very well may have been the case), or as if I were a nine year old, or as if I had just woken up from a century-long slumber. And then he said something to the effect of, "It's only the best I-bank in the world."

In addition, it strikes me as incredibly sad that (along with being too afraid to ask what the "I" stood for) I believe it was at this moment that an overly impressionable suburban Midwesterner began to believe that a job with Goldman Sachs was the Holy Grail of a college education. Which is not to say that a job with Goldman, or any other Wall Street bank, is a bad thing. Just that it might not be the greatest thing. And which brings me to another paragraph in Keegan's column:

Is working for a bank inherently evil? Probably not. But the fact that such a large percentage of students at top-tier schools enter an industry that isn’t contributing, creating or improving much of anything saddens me.

And what saddens me is not that a ridiculously high percentage of students at top-tier schools (and, by the way, this means the Ivy League plus Stanford, Duke, UVA, Chicago and Michigan) have historically packed up and moved to Wall Street (and the consulting industry) after graduation, but that Wall Street, in the aftermath of that little financial crisis thing a few years back that crippled the US economy and sent millions to the unemployment line, has yet to offer any evidence for its "contributions" and "improving much of anything" other than "we raise capital so businesses can grow, and when businesses grow, that creates jobs." Which, though perhaps true in some instances, reminds me very much of something a certain college friend used to say, in jest, when I'd ask him why he insisted on depositing his litter on West Philadelphia streets and sidewalks: "It creates jobs."

Which brings me to this paragraph in Keegan's column:

What I found was somewhat surprising: the clichéd pull of high salaries is only part of the problem. Few college seniors have any idea how to “get a job,” let alone what that job would be. Representatives from the consulting and finance industries come to schools early and often – providing us with application timelines and inviting us to information sessions in individualized e-mails. We’re made to feel special and desired and important.

I am beginning now to recall how special and important and desired a certain impressionable 21-year-old who was about to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania felt when certain recruiters and white men in suits relayed to him how much money he was about to make during his first year out of school. And how special and desired and important he felt even before that when white men (and a few women) in suits stood in front of filled-to-capacity auditoriums expounding on the challenging, rewarding, fast-paced, incredibly important world of I-banking (of course, at this point the 21-year-old knew very well what the "I" in I-banking stood for) ...

In any case, there's nothing wrong with I-bank instilling said feelings of specialness and importance and desire, but many moons later this aforementioned 21-year-old wonders why there weren't men and women in suits who worked for industries other than I-banking and consulting who came to his campus to expound on the challenging, rewarding, fast-paced, incredibly important worlds in which they operate? And why weren't there more in the way of classroom offerings at this supposed higher place of learning about what will happen once his diploma is signed and framed in glass (only to be buried in the back of a closet in a few months)? Could there have been a class, required or adjunct, or series of short seminars, at the very least, focusing on the business of getting a job or about the business of managing a career? Should there have been?

Which apparently brings me back to my original intent this morning, that is to my original blog subject about liberal-arts curriculums, and so let me just say this about the subject: I believe it's a very good thing that liberal-arts colleges (or any other types of colleges for that matter) offer and/or perhaps require more classes in entrepreneurship, in how to go about getting a job, in how to go about building a career. And I believe it's perhaps more important now—in the post-financial crisis job market—than ever.

And let me also say this ... actually, let Marina Keegan's mother say this (as she told the Washington Post): "I would love my daughter's words, few as they may be, to be shared .. That's all that's left of her now, her words."

Read More:
Another View: The Science and Strategy of College Recruiting (DealBook)
Colleges Get Career-Minded (WSJ)
Even Artichokes Have Doubts (Yale Daily News)
KEEGAN: The Opposite of Loneliness (Yale Daily News)
Parents of Yale grad killed in crash say widespread sharing of essay she wrote is a comfort (WashPost)


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