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Mari Fagel Headshot

Fellow Millennials, Listen Up: The Case for Personal Responsibility

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Narcissistic. Entitled. Egotistical. These are just some of the glowing adjectives often used to describe my generation, the "me" generation. As a millennial, I resent the fact that my generation is often summed up as the kids whose parents awarded them ribbons, medals and gold stars just for participating. But sometimes my fellow gen Y-ers do things to prove that very point -- that we expect things to be handed to us without working for it.

Former law school students are now suing their law schools because they couldn't get a job after graduation. Former interns are now suing their employers because they didn't get enough training during their internships. Instead of blaming others and trying to launch class-action lawsuits against them, we need to take personal responsibility.

In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan State Supreme court last week, Lucy Bickerton, a 2007 PBS summer intern with Charlie Rose is suing Rose and his production company, claiming her unpaid internship violated New York labor law because she wasn't trained. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, a company may legally offer unpaid internships if they are educational and benefit the intern and not necessarily the employer.

Bickerton claims she wasn't trained because she spent her internship providing background research for Mr. Rose about interview guests, assembling press packets, escorting guests through the studio, breaking down the interview set after daily filming and cleaning up the green room. But isn't researching an essential training skill would-be journalists should learn? Isn't the fact she was able to watch how Rose, one of the nation's most acclaimed interviewers, prepared and interviewed guests each day training in it self? Isn't the fact that she was able to work with Rose and top producers and pick their brains, if she wanted to, about how they got to where they are and whether they had any advice, beneficial?

I was an unpaid intern at a news station the same summer as Bickerton and did similar tasks, but I walked away feeling I had more practical job training than could be provided in a classroom. Yes, there were some menial tasks like printing and handing out scripts. But I'd also ask producers and correspondents each day to sit in the edit room with them so I could watch how stories were put together and ask questions to learn the process. Many of those same producers and correspondents I still keep in touch with to ask career advice. Your internship experience is what you make of it, and if you feel you didn't get sufficient training, you have only yourself to blame. Reporters, producers and editors are all busy people and they aren't going to take the time out of their day to check up on you, it's up to you to ask questions and to learn from them.

The biggest benefit of an unpaid internship is that it gives you the experience necessary to help find a job out of college. One reason I was able to get a job after graduation was because I had unpaid internships at news stations listed on my resume. And I'm sure Bickerton, who is now a documentary filmmaker, was able to get where she is in part because PBS is listed on hers.

The unpaid internship is a flawed system where colleges and companies often blur the lines in order to get away with it. Yet it's also productive, necessary, and the only system that works. If the unpaid internship were done away with, many companies, especially a publicly-funded broadcast station, would not be able to afford interns and thus do away with their internship program altogether, only hurting college students in the end.

Just as Bickerton's suit is placing blame on her employer because she didn't get the experience she wanted out of it, a group of former law students are now suing their law schools because they didn't get the jobs they wanted out of school.

Attorney Jesse Strauss appeared before Manhattan Supreme Court last week to argue that New York Law School fudged its job placement rate numbers, misleading applicants to believe they'd be guaranteed a job after graduation. The suit says the school duped students by claiming that "the overwhelming majority of its students -- 90 to 95 percent -- secure employment within nine months of graduation."

Strauss' clients include Matthew Crawford, a 2010 NYLS grad, who is now living with his parents in St. Louis and working at a Starbucks, and Katherine Cooper, also a 2010 grad, who says she even had to consider a position as a Sears sales clerk after graduation. Cooper says she decided on NYLS "because job statistics were huge for me. I wanted reliable work after graduation."

Yet, you can't blame your law school because you didn't get the job you wanted. There are so many other factors that go into getting a job at a top law firm: good grades, a high student ranking, a good interview, a strong resume, and simply entering a strong job market in a good economy. You don't get a job just because your law school guaranteed you'd get one in their employment statistics provided on application brochures. You can't blame a school because you spent thousands of dollars of tuition money and didn't get the job you wanted because, at the end of the day, it was your own choice to go to school.

One reason why older generations so often call us entitled is because we think we deserve a good job, a good internship, whatever it may be, without working for it and when we don't get what we want, we blame everyone but ourselves. Filing potential class-action lawsuits is certainly not helping us get rid of the stigma. So please, fellow millennials, lets stop it with the lawsuits and start taking some personal responsibility.