[dropcap size=big]D[/dropcap]ear Class of 2015,
As you prepare for the equal parts exciting and poop-your-pants terror of embarking on the alleged “real world” that grownups have been warning you about, I have one thing to say to you:
I’ve been watching you.
You see, I’ve had an interesting perspective on your upcoming graduation. As the editor of a site for twenty-something women, I’ve been working with far more than my fair share of undergrads over the last two years. More than 20 percent of my staff is graduating this year, including my own co-founder, Associate Editor, and sister. Whether as staff writers, interns, or editors, I’ve gotten to know the 2015 graduating class, and I’m going to say something shocking.
I’m not worried about you at all.
I’ve spent the last few years writing recommendation letters, fielding phone calls from inquiring bosses, sending out job opening links, and giving whatever advice I can to many of you. I’ve watched you dive into the world of writing and find your voice, juggle multiple internships, papers, relationships, and LD, and come out swinging. I’ve had the honor of learning from you, trusting you with my darling brainchild, and being intimidated by how much you have your shit together. Why?
You’re prepared for the real world.
As a 2008 graduate, my friends and I came out of the world with only our grades and student debt, and figured that after a month or two we’d find a job. Our classmates graduating a few months before were starting salaries at $50–60k a year. But then a recession hit, unemployment skyrocketed, and we were left holding a smoldering bag of debt and disillusionment. We made do, but we’ve never made up the salary gap, and for all our perfect academic careers, we discovered that our bachelor’s degree is more or less an overpriced high school diploma these days.
But you know what matters most is experience, and you’ve learned that lesson the hard way.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched my sister be a superhuman. Not only did she help me found LD, she’s been an editor of her school newspaper, had a 40–60-plus hour a week internship with the local newspaper, edited/written/designed for a magazine, freelanced, and held multiple internships per year. On top of that she’s been in an a capella group, communications director for extracurriculars, and been applying to jobs since last September. This is on top of actually going to school and having time to respond to my countless texts of dog pictures. When I look at her day-to-day schedule I wonder how she’s still breathing. This is the new normal, and I am left in awe of my sister every single day because of it.
Your class knows that college is nothing but four years of networking.
You’ve mastered the game of the hustle. You’ve watched older millennials flounder and said, “That won’t be us.” Professors aren’t bastions of learning, but connections that can help you further a career. You routinely have coffee meetings with professors, advisors, and key figures in your universities to foster a relationship to last past graduation. I see you working on your personal brand across social media, with your own portfolio websites filled with projects, bylines, and connections that I’d kill for. There’s no such thing as honing the single skill—you know the trick to getting ahead is being able to fill the niche of “doing more with less” mindset of the post-recession world. Before you even enter the workforce you have to sell yourself as being able to fill multiple roles. The emails I get from undergraduates wanting to write for me blow away by far, those of the older twenty-somethings. You know how to package yourself as an in-demand commodity.
That’s because your backup plans have backup plans.
When the economy turned its back on my fellow graduates, many of us turned to graduate and law school. We figured we could ride out the nasty economy and when we came out with a few more diplomas, we’d have our pick of the jobs (and a lot more debt). Instead of having jobs waiting, we discovered that the people who’d taken the lesser jobs had now worked themselves up into the positions we’d wanted, and there still wasn’t a home for us. And now I see graduates making similar decisions but in a smarter fashion. Those of you heading on to higher education have a clear path of why you need it, what you’re going to get from it, and without any delusions as to what the return of investment is going to be. For those off to law school I see you taking time off to assess and regroup, making sure that the law degree will help you get hired instead of making you one of many entering an over-populated field. The rest of you have been applying for jobs for months as the idea of waiting until post-grad life fills you with terror. You’re holding mock-interviews with your friends to prepare, and tweeting at the companies you’re applying for.
I’ve watched you forming support groups on Facebook, sending job posts, sharing spreadsheets for tracking applications, and getting extra eyes on resumes and cover letters. You’ve been utilizing those of us already in the career world for advice, asking key questions on how to negotiate salaries and benefits, and supporting one another throughout the process. I see no evidence of the backstabbing competition to get ahead, no vitriol over one person’s success in comparison to your own. I may read a tone of fear for the future, but never to the point that you don’t stop to help one another out. You’ve realized that the way up the career ladder is not by stepping on one another’s backs, but by offering a helping hand. It’s refreshing, and a little mind-boggling to see such poise in those not even out of college.
And whoever said millennials are lazy, entitled, and will ruin the workforce clearly haven’t met the latest batch of graduates. I’ve never seen such hard workers nor anyone more dedicated to their success. Your eyes are bright, but they’re not filled with naive dreams. You expect to start at the bottom, you know you have more internships and dues to pay, and you’re eager for it in a way I never was. The world around you is changing faster than you can even apply to jobs, and so you’ve learned to shift on an axis to avoid being left behind. You have ingenuity, drive, creativity, and realize that the only way to make your way in the world is to shape it for yourself.
Many times I’ve had people question my decision to work with undergrads; to entrust those much younger and less experienced as editors, co-founders, and the backbone of my writing staff. Wouldn’t I prefer tried and tested writers, those with the chops and the resumes to back it up? Aren’t I concerned about inexperienced voices prattling on about immature topics? The answer is no. Every day I find myself bowing to the opinions of those younger than I am, of recognizing that the age of the body means nothing compared to the prowess of the mind and the creativity it holds. My college writers hold themselves with a decorum, professionalism, and drive to try that I have never seen elsewhere. With your countless internships you’ve garnered best practices from far more organizations than I have, and you’re willing to share that information. Maybe I’ve sometimes had to work a little harder to hone you into writers or help teach you the ropes. But it has never not been worth it for the care, loyalty and dedication you have shown in return. And when you ask me to mentor you, I find myself scratching my head and wondering what on earth you all have to learn from me. You’ve already got it all figured out.
So to all you graduates, as you’re about to don your cap and gown, and I watch my little darlings fluff their feathers, I must remind you not to let your fear of the unknown overcome your pride in all that you’ve accomplished. Whether you’re graduating summa cum laude or barely passing econ, you’re going into the world with your hearts and your eyes open. You’ve prepared as best you can, and while you likely will still flounder, you’ve done all you can to set a foundation of success. Do not despair of the failure that will inevitably confront you but do not ignore the realities of what is ahead. Tie your dreams to practicalities, accept the challenges that are to come, but celebrate the small moments as well. Make time for coffee with your friends, keep your passions held tightly to your breasts, call your parents, and do not let the end of your education mark the end of your learning.
And in the immortal words of my idol, I deplore you to hold true to the perseverance you’ve always shown and remember:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill
Keep going darlings, I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Congratulations to Literally, Darling‘s Class of 2015
Hope Racine, University of Mary Washington
Michelle Delgado, University of Virginia
Angela London, Bellarmine University
Natalie Bigelow, University of California Santa Cruz
Mayura Iyer, University of Virginia
Maureen O’Connor, University of Virginia
Ella Cajayon, Virginia Commonwealth University
Emmy Boyd, University of Missouri
Kristin Salaky, Ohio University
Emily Bamforth, Ohio University
Allie Windergerst, University of Iowa
Samantha Ladwig, Western Washington University (grad school!)