April 2, 2007

The New York Times is So Dartmouth

The New York Times has added yet another blog to its Times Select section, in case you found yourself tempted to read actual, substantial news instead. "The Graduates: Eight College Seniors Face the Future," was launched today, with its first post by Dartmouth's own Alice Mathias '07. (By the way, if you don't have TimesSelect, its now free for college students, so get on that.)

The piece is blog-appropriate, I guess, having the light-hearted, conversational tone of one of Alice's columns in last year's Mirror. Alice tries to explain why so many of us Ivy folk run off to big banking firms after college, but I'm not quite sure she pulls it off. After a bit of a detour on the promise of immortality (thank you ENGS 5, fucking case study in the idiocy of distribs) and robot ponies, she finds the culprit: the disengaging effects of bipartisan rancor.

Faulting some abstract, exogenous phenomena not only fails to provide any student-specific insight, but also lets us off the hook too easily for our own decisions. Sure, the cultural cache` of public service has waned over the past few decades along with public respect for politicians, but how is this suddenly manifesting in our generation? (Haven't youth voting rates been higher lately than in the 90s or 2000?)

A larger part of the problem is plainly visible right here on campus. Most students, not having attempted to start a career yet, have an unrealistic conception of the labor market. We tend to see our options being either selling-out or a noble and impoverished life of service (and who could fault us for choosing the former), when that at best delineates a spectrum of options. People doing amazing things later in their careers often couldn't have predicted the path that brought them there from college, a path that meandered across that entire spectrum. So when corporate recruiters show up, some immediate pressure is added to make good on our education and prove our worth to ourselves, each other, and our parents, and, voila, a generation of bankers.

Enough of my preaching. There's nothing necessarily wrong with becoming an I-banker, and simple economics could explain a lot. (Did anyone fault the 90s kids for the lemming-rush towards tech jobs? Of course not. The pursuit of technological progress is more defensible than that of increasing market efficiency, I guess). There is, however, something wrong with people selling themselves short. Students here not only have more wide-ranging interests and greater career aspirations than just a lucrative profession, but they are also among the select privileged elite that can actually afford to take the more-intriguing, lesser-paying internships and even immediate post-grad career options. Fuck, I'm preaching again.

I wish, as Alice predicts may happen, that Obama gets elected and everyone flocks to DC or wherever, hoping to become a political rockstar just like him. But I'm not really holding my breath.

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