Free Will is an Illusion: An Examination of Post Grad Life
A few weeks ago, a friend posted an article on Facebook from the Yale Daily News called “Even Artichokes Have Doubts.” In the piece, the author reflects on the fact that 25% of recent Yale graduates enter the consulting and finance industries each year. I had actually read the piece a few years prior, but it really resonated with me this time around. One of the reasons is because the writer, Marina Keegan, took a topic that most people decline to discuss and she made it approachable She did not vilify people for their choices to enter these fields, but she did make her audience question why this diaspora was so common.
The other reason I felt such a strong connection to the piece is because I see the same statistical pattern occurring at Boston College almost four years after this article was written. Hundreds of students are funneled into the recruiting classes at places like Deloitte and Bain & Company and it worries me. In Keegan’s article, she explains how students perceive these companies as potential training grounds, places where they can gain a valuable skillset that will benefit them down the road. From these positions, these students claim they can then move-on to more noble pursuits. Keegan, however, refutes this notion: “What bothers me is this idea of validation, of rationalization. The notion that some of us (regardless of what we tell ourselves) are doing this because we’re not sure what else to do and it’s easy to apply to and it will pay us decently and it will make us feel like we’re still successful.” In other words, we go to the information sessions, we read the pamphlets, we attend the career fairs, follow the herd and somehow end up in a corner office in a sky-rise in Manhattan with no real understanding of how or why we got there. We become part of an assembly line and a system over which we have no control. I hesitate to say that this is injurious, but it is certainly something that involves a bit more examination.
I do see the appeal of choosing these companies though. They give you financial security and the option of traveling around the country or the world. As a senior, I’m constantly bombarded with the infamous “J” word and I know how easy it can be to get swept up in the need to secure a position. Four out of my five roommates already have jobs lined up for next year. They will proudly enter the fields of consulting, accounting, and investment banking. My direct roommate and I are the only two still resisting the establishment. She wants to be a sports reporter and I, at the moment and for the foreseeable future, am directionless.
In high school, this type of freedom would have unnerved me because I was so used to being trained for a “next step.” I had to do well in my honors classes to get accepted into advanced placement courses. I had to do well on my PSATS to be considered for scholarships. I had to play three varsity sports, volunteer, and participate in clubs to pad my resume. I had to ace my SATs, SATIIs, AP Tests and the ACT in order to be accepted into what my parents and society determined was a good college. I was so busy, so scheduled, so focused. The path was completely laid out for me and I just had to nod my head and smile.
Now, I wish that I had played a more active role in the process that led me to Boston College. I wish that my counselors hadn’t told me to avoid art classes because they would negatively affect my GPA and I wish that I had attended the college that I wanted to instead of the one that I thought had the most prestige. I regret gossiping about a friend I had in high school because she was taking a gap year after senior year. She ended up backpacking around Europe and then choosing to go to college a year later and to study abroad in Paris and Turkey. I regret judging people who followed nontraditional paths, like a girl I knew who decided to go to high school in Germany, take a gap year and volunteer in Brazil, and eventually attend a college that lets her study in a different country each semester. I followed the rules and the traditions because I thought that was what it meant to be a good student. Now it seems like I was just too afraid of making my own decisions. If I dutifully did what my parents/teachers/coaches told me, then the results were all but guaranteed. On the path I took — the road more travelled — there were no unknown variables.
As I’m approaching the end of my college career, I’m just starting to color outside the lines. I now enjoy the freedom that comes with being a liberal arts major because I can pick my classes based on what interests me and not for their ability to train me for a career. I’m allowing myself to leave the bubble and the structure that are BC. In the past, I saw higher education as just an obligatory part of the middle-class life-cycle, but now I see it as something much more. In a sense I am being trained, but not in how to use formulas in an excel spreadsheet or write a company memo. Instead, I am learning to be more knowledgeable about the world and to be more curious.
I would be lying if I said that I was completely averse to the competitiveness that pervades Boston College and the need to be or to feel successful. The motto of the school is “Ever to Excel” — and it represents more than bombastic words on a college diploma: it is a mode of being. Perfectionism, in the most absolute sense of the word, is adhered to with an almost religious zealousness. I’ve worked hard over the past four years and have had six internships. In whispers before the start of class, I hear people discussing their interviews with “The Big Four” or “The Big Three” and I catch myself getting nervous about my unemployment. In Keegan’s article, a former dean of Berkeley College allays my fears when he says, “The danger in doing a prefabricated thing after graduation is that there’s no unique story to tell about it. If there was ever a moment to be entrepreneurial and daring — whether in terms of business or social change, and really test yourself, this is it.” When I find myself on LinkedIn or Eaglelink late at night on Saturday, I have to repeat these words to myself. I want to regain agency in my own life.
Like Keegan says of the students at Yale, I think that the people at BC have so much potential to do good or to contribute to this world in a meaningful way. We see so much prestige and honor in those of us who are smart enough to gain these coveted consulting gigs, but I think the honor lies elsewhere. I think those classmates we wrote off in high school or those classmates forging their own way might just be the ones with the secret sauce.
(Note to the reader: Keegan tragically died in a car crash five days after her graduation in 2012, but a collection of her short stories and essays was published posthumously. If you’re interested in reading more, check out the book here: The Opposite of Loneliness)