Part blog, part oral history, part research project.
How has the Great Recession affected your path beyond college? What is your story?

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Recently I had the opportunity to do Story Corps and was interviewed by my partner about my experiences as a Recession Grad. I thought it only fair to share them with you.

For me as a kid, I dreamt of college, because I was a dork and I loved reading and I was very smart and I felt like, some day, I'm going to be in this magic place of [laughs] higher learning, where everyone will be like me.

I dropped out of school the day I turned 18, which was two months before I would've graduated. And to me, it wasn't even worthwhile graduating. I had been the perfect student all of my life, up until [family problems in] my junior year in high school. I missed a lot of school...

And what was the point? It wasn't like I was going to get into a good school now. Everything seemed like it wasn't worthwhile. It wasn't worth even trying. Or even finishing. At first I tried to get a social worker and I tried all of these different normal things to make my life better. And when that didn't work, I bought a plane ticket and the day I turned 18, I planned to fly out. To California. [laughs] I was from just outside of Cleveland.

When I first came to California I found minimum wage jobs. I worked a variety of strange things. Eventually I landed in a bookstore. And I loved it. Because everyone there was like me in a way. They loved books, they were very witty and smart and creative. And we could have these intellectual conversations that could go on for hours and I would forget that I didn't have a degree and that I was making minimum wage and that I didn't know what was going to happen in the future.

Almost a decade passed, while I worked in the bookstore.

Everyone that I worked with was shocked that I didn't have a degree. I thought I'd lost my opportunity, that I wouldn't, that no school would want me, that I couldn't afford a school, that I was too old, that it was too late but, [my partner] convinced me to apply to one school and I applied to that one school and was completely blown away when they called me up and said you're accepted and here's a scholarship.

I completed a bachelor’s in public policy while working on credits towards a master’s.

When I was in school I was part of an award-winning radio documentary, I made one of my dreams come true and won a scholarship to study in Egypt—[sighs] I did so many—I won an award for my thesis—so I expected when I got out of school, I'd at least be able to get a job. And instead I'm filling out resume after resume, different cover letters, I'm applying for jobs that I wouldn't have applied for before, because the job market's tough. There’s jobs out there, but you're competing with people that have ten years of experience and that are willing to take an entry level job. So you don't have a chance as someone fresh out of school without experience in that field or with only internship experience when someone who's an expert in that field or several someones who are experts in that field are interviewing for the same job. I've had some interviews, but it's pretty grim. It's been almost a year. And I still haven't found full time employment.

It makes me really question whether I can make it in the real world. It really crushes your self esteem. I don't know where I'm going to be ten years from now. I have no idea. And I thought I'd at least, I used to think that I would be a researcher somewhere, but now—or that I'd have, you know, my own independent firm or something, but now I hope that I'm at least able to pay a little bit towards my loans. I mean that's sad, but that's as much as I can hope for right now. Or as much as I can expect, given what I've seen so far.

I'm applying for all of these jobs and most of them are jobs I don't even want and not once, not in all of these months, not in all of these searches and networking, have I found a single career or job or opening that's doing what I love—which is collecting stories. I love doing interview-based research. And I haven't found anything like that. So, at some point, I decided, what the heck, if I'm not going to get paid to do it, there's no reason why I just can't do it on my own. And at the same time, I've been wondering how other people feel who went back to school. If anyone else is having a tough time and what their experiences are or maybe other people are seeing this as an opportunity to do a whole new thing with their life. So I started, back in October, an independent project researching how the recession is affecting recent graduates. And I've been interviewing people all over the country to see what their experiences are like.

I'm hearing so many different stories. And it makes me feel—not alone and it also makes me feel like there's a generational thing that's happening. That there's an actual historic thing that's happening. There's a subgeneration of people who are essentially being left behind because of the economic downturn. You have all of these fresh young minds—or people that went back to school to retool their careers—that are now left in this nebulous nowhere zone of unemployment or underemployment.

I feel angry that we had this promise, you know, this unspoken promise, that you go to school and you get a job. That's what happens in the United States, right? Wrong. And, and it's not being addressed. We're addressing the value of the dollar, we're addressing this and that—or we're creating jobs, but we're creating retail jobs. That's what I went to school to not do anymore. And it's not being...It's not being discussed, not really. And our voices aren't being heard. I feel like I'm collecting the stories of people that really have no other forum.

1 comment:

  1. As a hairstylist, people tell me their stories every day and I have to say, Melissa, you are not alone. I want to introduce you to my friend Elaine Hersher, she is in a boat much like yours and has loads of experience, I wont venture her age. I bet you two would have a very long conversation and share some great insights. I'm going to forward this blog entry and don't be surprised if she comes calling... not for a job, but some brain-storming. Luck to you, my dear friend. Jil