Graduations are an exciting time culminating in a journey of hard work and determination. It’s a festive time for families and friends to honor and congratulate the graduate on their achievements. I always enjoy this time of year, scrolling through my social media feeds and seeing the pictures of big smiles and promises. Once the dust has settled — then what?
In 2020, about 4 million of all college students graduated with degrees from associate to doctorate. But too many also walked across the stage worried about the future and mountains of debt. There’s that one thing called employment that can be stressful to obtain, especially during a global pandemic.
Now, reality sets in. Graduates are worried about obtaining viable employment and what they will do for the rest of their lives. Student loan bills will become due in about six months and can be a nightmare, especially when you’re still trying to get established.
Even as the workforce expands, Black graduates still feel the brunt of discrimination and are therefore more vulnerable. Black graduates continue to be almost twice as likely as white graduates to be unemployed.
The truth is that for many Black graduates, the benefits of a college education may not have lived up to the promise. A friend of mine’s son graduated last year with a degree in business administration. He aspired to work in marketing and applied to major companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google. When those didn’t come through, he had to pick up work as a cashier for $10 an hour. It was a similar situation with many of his fellow classmates.
The unemployment gap between Black and white college graduates narrows as people get older. Last year, it was 3.5 percent for whites versus nearly 6 percent for Black people. But the delay in finding a job can resonate years down the road — reducing wages over a lifetime.
The concept of “getting a good job” is different for everyone. Many of our parents drilled that into us from an early age because it was the most practical advice they could give. Yet, in a COVID-19 world, college graduates must remain open and be able to adjust expectations. If the pandemic has made anything clear, it’s that perfect plans can go left at any time. Now, it’s important to prioritize health, safety, and living a life you actually enjoy.
Society puts tremendous pressure on young people – and young people put on themselves – to have their lives figured out by the time they walk across the stage. The truth is, figuring it out is a long game. We are constantly evolving and creating new chapters in our story.
When I started college, my parents advised me to use the time to prepare. Classes and school will be the easy part because it’s structured. In the real world, there will be changes every day — and there’s no syllabus telling you what comes next. Build relationships through networking, and go after professional, personal, and creative opportunities that bring you happiness. Making connections is key even outside of the office. These days, social media makes it easy to insert yourself into existing conversations and build relationships with people.
Graduating from college without a job or prospects for a job can be scary. So, now is the time to define what risk means to you and what you’ve cared about up to this point. It might be risky to go against your parent’s wishes. For someone else, the risk might be quitting the safe, stable job they hate for a lower-paying job they’ll love and gives them peace of mind. Either way, you only perceive these things as risks because they don’t live up to the opinions of other people. The truth is, they may not live up to the expectations you had for yourself. You don’t want to disappoint, but guess what? The threat is mostly — or completely — in your head.
The discomfort you feel is not because you’re doing anything wrong, it’s because you’re thinking and doing something different – something you actually want to do. If you can get past that fear, and realize that risks come with rewards, you’ll be great.
My friend’s son that I mentioned earlier? While working as a cashier, he continued to send out resumes every week and have some interviews. In the meantime, he decided to step out on faith. He began using social media to market his skills to small businesses, offering them everything from building websites to creating marketing plans. After he worked with his first client, he gained a referral and then another referral. Once he began to think differently about his situation, things began to change. Eventually, a company reached out to him via LinkedIn, and he secured the marketing job he always wanted. He’s also still investing energy into his side-hustle that has grown beyond what he imagined.
Many people advocate for not even attending college – that it’s a waste of time and money. While it’s true that college is not for everybody, I would disagree that it’s a waste. I believe everyone has their own path, and believe it or not, there are still many careers that require a college education. What’s also true is that everyone does not desire to be an entrepreneur.
What I know for sure is that graduating from college is a first step outside of the preverbal “box” that everyone preaches about. Graduating is no small feat. Even better, you can literally do anything you put your mind to. Try different jobs, industries, and your own passions to get a sense of how they make you feel. If you ever feel pressured to do one thing, or fit perfectly into a box, just remember that there is no box. Don’t be discouraged if you have to move back home with your parents for a while, or even take a job as a cashier. Never stop with your goals. This season of life doesn’t have to be scary and stressful. Know that you have time to figure it out. You can truly determine what happens next.
What's Your Reaction?
Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.