MARTY RUSSELL: What do you tell a graduating college senior?

I feel sorry for some of my students, not because we paraded them around this past weekend in ridiculous hats and long, hot gowns but because they’re graduating into the worst economy since the pig-based bartering system in Lesser Upper Mongolia got hit by the swine flu.
I can’t tell you how many of them stopped by my office in recent weeks with worried expressions on their faces saying they haven’t been able to find a job and asking if there’s anything else they can do with a journalism degree. I told them that, if times get really tough, they might be able to eat it.
Seriously, though, I would hate to be in their shoes. Not only is the economy as a whole in worse shape than the Hubble Space Telescope but journalism, in particular, is undergoing major changes that I’m not sure anyone knows how it will end up. You know your line of work is in serious trouble when Congress starts holding hearings on its future.
That’s like having your doctor recommend a good undertaker.
A lot of students are choosing to remain in school until the economy recovers, at least that’s what they’re telling their parents. They’re applying to grad school or law school or just starting over from scratch with new majors that they hope will be more lucrative than the degree they got. Many are going back for degrees in health care or education, two fields largely unaffected by the state of the economy. Personally, if I had to do it over again I’d become a white collar crime prosecutor and move to Wall Street.
It’s hard to know what to tell my graduating students. I certainly don’t want to discourage them from pursuing their chosen profession, one that can be very rewarding if they ever do find work. But, at the same time, you have to face reality. Just telling them to hang in there and keep looking and something will turn up rings about as true as Miss California.
And telling them you hope their parents haven’t turned their old bedroom into a playroom yet is like sentencing them to prison after four (or five) years of total freedom.
So I feel really sorry for some of my students because some of them really are very talented, they just need a chance to prove it. So I encourage them not to get discouraged and, if necessary, find something else to do until the economy rights itself but to never give up on their original ambitions.
Depending on how long it takes for the economy to turn around, maybe I should add a new component to my classes. In between talking about the inverted pyramid and Associated Press style, maybe I should add a quick lecture in how to properly say, “Do you want fries with that?”
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.

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