What the future holds

Tony Petersen

As college students, we have it fairly easy.

We spend our days in relative security compared to our post-baccalaureate brethren. It is obviously not accurate to paint with a broad brush — a great many students struggle to pay their own way to school, working one or more jobs to be able to live and learn.

The vast majority of us, however, are accustomed to the fanciful college life we see in the movies. Our education is financed by the state, mom and dad, or loans that we will pay back at some hazy point in the future. We attend class — or don’t attend class — at whatever hours we choose.

As a mug on one of the desks in the Collegian newsroom says, “Proud to be a contemplating, debt-incurring, stay-up-all-night, study-hard, party-hard student.”

As graduation beckons for many of us, this life of ease is nearing its end. In its stead will be the vaunted “real world,” — a much harsher reality than that we currently experience.

The unemployment rate in California is 11.5 percent. In Fresno, it’s 16.4 percent. The state is broke, and its institutional maladies — a two-thirds vote required for any tax increase and ever-present demands for increased entitlements — do not give one hope for the financial future of the Golden State.

Nationally, there is a median average of 39 crimes per square mile, according to the website Neighborhood Scout. In California, that number balloons to 71, and in Fresno it is even higher, at 81. Fresno is in the bottom 10 percent of safe cities in the United States.

Perhaps most worrisome for graduating students are the numbers for recent graduates. Last year, student loan debt was higher than credit card debt for the first time ever, and according to the Associated Press, half of all recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed.

This depressing picture is particularly troubling for impending graduates such as myself. With all the uncertainty we face, the inevitable question that comes to mind is just what we will do about it.

We can take solace in the oft-quoted fact that college graduates do make much more than non-college grads make: According to a 2010 government report, high school graduates, on average, earn $1.2 million throughout their lifetimes, whereas those with bachelor’s degrees earn $2.1 million during their lives. And that number is even higher for post-graduate students.

The America of today rewards ingenuity and talent even more generously than the America of the past ever did. The stories of contemporary behemoths like Facebook, Google and PayPal, as well as the thousands of small businesses that constantly sprout up around the country, abound with examples of the American entrepreneurial spirit that drive our economy. The view that any person is able to rise above his or her station is alive and well.

Our biggest advantage is that we are the future of this country. It is from our generation that the next crop of political leaders will come. It is from our generation that the next titan of American business will come. It is from our generation that the next innovative band of scientists will come.

As cliché as it may sound, the best thing we have going for us is ourselves. We live in a land where, if we work hard enough, are smart enough or lucky enough, success will always be within our grasp.

As soon-to-be former college students, we know life will certainly not be easy. But neither was it easy for the generation that endured the Great Depression. And they won World War II.

What will we do?

Tony Petersen is the opinion editor of The Collegian. This is his final column as an editor of The Collegian. Follow him on Twitter @tonypetersen4.

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