Stanford Grad Reflects on Year Since Graduating
In the coming weeks, I will mark my first year since graduating from college. My recent conversations with friends about their final papers, graduation celebrations, and of course, the job search, reminds me of the anxiety I felt over my graduation hopes and fears in 2011. Not to mention, this year’s current statistics on unemployed college graduates makes me wonder at the amount of unprecedented stress this year’s graduates must be under.
A Rutgers University survey found that only half of college graduates from 2006 to 2011 have full time jobs. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that between 2007 and 2011, the number of people with Master’s degrees or PhDs on welfare tripled to 360,000. Although those reports say “it gets better” for college graduates in the long run, graduating from college now is suddenly becoming a nerve-wracking event.
Graduation for me was contradictory. On the one hand, it signaled the end of the binding comfort offered by a life in academia. On the other hand, it augured a re-entrance into the very real world that I been separated from for over four years.
I ached for that return, to be able to engage with my community and with something familiar. That familiarity, however, meant returning to a poor violent community, racial profiling on the block and back into a household where I felt I had to hide my queer identity. In a weird way, I yearned for home, albeit the oppressive home, because I felt Stanford University was culturally strangling me, and sub-textually instilling in me a temporary privilege that marked me as separate from mí hogar, mí cultura, mí realidad.
In a conversation with one of the few professors I trusted at Stanford, I told her I felt at a crossroads over my contradictory desires to return and leave home. “If I don’t find a job elsewhere,” I said, “that means I will move back home but I will have to be closeted. And if I have to go back home unemployed, would I be labeled a failure? Would all this hard work be for nothing considering that I had graduated from one the most prestigious universities in the world?”
Going further, I expressed concern about people not believing my credentials because it’s a brown body that bears them. “And what if my writing stops, I lose my poetic vigor and never reach my goals! What if I never make money to support my art and myself?”
My professor/mentor assured me, oh yeah, it’s gonna be hard, but that shouldn’t stop you. She said she had witnessed within me a tremendous growth that was testament to my determination. She gave me advice on how to go on, to be in the real world, on finding jobs in which I excel, on how to be unapologetic of my queer identity, how to involve myself in the realities, to enjoy, work hard, fight and to never lose sight of my goals. She assured me this.
That was a year ago exactly, when I felt I was hitting a wall. Now, I am still hitting walls but this time I think and feel that there is something on the other side. Since college graduation, I had a summer fellowship, applied to 26 jobs during the summer, returned to Richmond unemployed and back to my familía where I now live. Some fears, it turns out, were not so far fetched: my credentials have been doubted. Homeowners thought I was the gardener when delivering flyers. People have mistaken me for a janitor, (although I wasn’t carrying any bins and was dressed nicely) when I show up for reporting interviews. My queer identity and autonomy has suffered. I’m broke and depending on my parents.
But there’s been successes too. I’ve experimented with community art classes, and I finally took a photography course. I’ve drifted through unpaid internships until I found one that valued my work and interest. At the beginning of this year, I landed several part-time jobs and have tried like mad to schedule them without conflict. I’ve gone on and off of my creative writing and film-making, rarely producing work, but it satisfies me. And at times I feel like I am falling further behind, failing all my responsibilities, and other times, I am happy to see my work finally validated.
It’s cliché and annoying to hear, but post-grad life is a process, a hard one. It’s not supposed to be easy, but please, if you are going to show a near-graduate statistics, assure them something. Assure them, you got their back and they can do it.
Edgardo Cervano-Soto is a fellow with New America Media's Youth Education Fellowship. The fellowship is a six-month long program for youth reporters aged 16-24 on education reporting. It is sponsored by the California Education Policy Fund.