On May 12, Will Ferrell delivered a commencement speech at the University of Southern California, where he told students to simply ignore the critics and "keep throwing darts at the dartboard." While some students find the outpouring of celebrity success stories inspiring, the Class of 2017 still faces a lot of grim facts and uncertainty.
Job openings are reportedly at an all-time high, but so is the number of people with college degrees. The wage gap between young people with and without college degrees is the widest it's been in decades. Student loan debt is a persistent problem. 65 percent of kids in school today will have jobs that don't exist yet.
VICE Impact sat down to find out how some recent graduates are hunting for jobs and coping with stress.
"One of the easiest things to do post graduation is to expect immediate results in the field I went to school for," said 23-year old Madison Davis, who just graduated from the writing program at Pratt Institute. "I think there is an assumption with creative pursuits that you definitely won't get a job and that getting a degree in arts is pointless," she said. "So there can be a lot of pressure to prove this viewpoint wrong."
Instead of succumbing to that pressure, Madison tries to stay positive. "Something I'm trying to practice is exerting myself more," she noted. For example, she's reaching out to teachers for help as well as emailing people in the publishing industry that visited her classes. "Even if they don't have job openings maybe they can refer me to someone who does," she added.
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Moving home after college has become more and more common in the last few years, but it isn't an option for everyone. "I have no family with fallback housing," explained Adam L., a 22-year-old from Roxbury, New Jersey who studied acting at Boston University. For now, Adam is balancing two part-time jobs with a handful of artistic projects in Boston, but he plans to move to New York in 2018.
Though the entertainment industry has always been extremely competitive, Adam contends "the most difficult obstacle" for performers is actually socioeconomic class. In his experience, opportunities for young artists are pay-to-play or don't provide a living wage.
"A major touring company hired two graduates of my program right out of school, and they happen to be lucky in that their parents are subsidizing their college loans while they're on the road," he explained. "The rest of us are auditioning, making our own projects, and hanging on for dear life."
On the one hand, Michael's happy with where he is at the moment. On the other, however, he said it can be discouraging to feel like he isn't using the skills he gained in school.
Like Adam, Justin Womble also started working a part-time job when he finished his degree in December. After completing his mechanical engineering degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he worked at a restaurant, went to career fairs, and networked. "It was low pressure at first," Justin said, but months went by without a job offer. While waiting tables in April, he struck up a conversation with a customer who happened to work at a global building technologies company. "He said that his company could use me and that I should apply," Justin recalled. "Now I work there."
According to Justin, this is "almost laughably cliche" for the engineering field. "They want to hang on to the veterans because they have experience already and coming in fresh out of school makes it tough." In other words, he clarified, "Contacts are king."
"The market's so saturated and competitive," remarked Nancy Huang, a 21-year-old graduate of University of Texas-Austin, "I think young people just graduating have a reason to be nervous."
Nancy majored in journalism, but she also studied English and creative writing. After graduation, she will go on tour to promote her forthcoming poetry book. Long-term plans, on the other hand, are a little more daunting. "A lot of my friends are having a hard time finding jobs or getting good positions," she explained, despite their degrees and internship experience.
"At some point I would like to return to school and receive my bachelors in business management, although my student loans have just started to come in."
Like everyone we spoke to, Nancy felt pressured to take on more and more responsibilities outside of school. At one point, she worked an unpaid internship as well as a part-time job on top of being a full-time student.
"At the time I told myself that I was in a privileged position to be able to do the unpaid internship, because I had another job," she recalled. "It's hard."
Michael S., a 25-year-old from Rockland, Massachusetts, had to commute two hours to get to the internship his program required. Though he's always wanted to be a veterinarian, he knew that meant many years of school and lots of money. After taking some time off from college and working a handful of restaurant jobs, he pursued an associate degree in veterinary management and found an entry-level job. On the one hand, Michael's happy with where he is at the moment. On the other, however, he said it can be discouraging to feel like he isn't using the skills he gained in school.
"At some point," Michael said, "I would like to return to school and receive my bachelors in business management, although my student loans have just started to come in."
Though this year may or may not be, in the words of Bill Gates, "an amazing time to be alive" and graduating from college, it is definitely an interesting time to enter the job market. Almost a decade has passed since the recession hit the United States in December 2007, and millions of jobs were lost. According to the Chicago Tribune's Gail MarksJarvis, startup companies are also quickly losing their appeal, leaving recent grads competing for jobs at larger, more established companies. While these changes are intimidating, one refrain seemed common among the people VICE Impact spoke to for this story: persistence.
"I do believe there's space for everyone who cares deeply and works hard," Adam L. noted. Madison seemed to agree, saying "I have the perhaps optimistic belief that if you continue put effort into something, it will come back to you." Or, as Ferrell said, "keep throwing darts at the dartboard."