There has been plenty of coverage of America's economic downturn in recent years but there has been one glaring hole: the perspective of the recent college graduate attempting to wade through such uncertainty. Considering one year has passed since my graduation party where my Master's thesis served as the guest of honor (I wanted my friends and family to physically see what was responsible for my extended absence, and my only regret was not putting a party hat on the paper), I feel I can adequately fill the gap.
Being from Michigan, I knew I had an employment fight on my hands before I even graduated. We were doing the whole recession and high unemployment thing years before the rest of the United States thought it was cool (we're trendsetters here). That fight, if I hadn't fully accepted its weight previously, was driven home at a job fair when I encountered an old classmate of mine from my undergraduate days a few years prior. I was dismayed to learn he had yet to find employment during the time I was working on my Master's, and he took the opportunity to fill me in on all he had endured to that point.
"You're a real uplifting guy," I said to him, shaking his hand as the job fair came to a close.
"Hey," he replied, holding out his hand for the return shake. "Is our reunion still going to be held at the temp agency?" One thing couldn't be denied: he hadn't lost his sense of humor, which is why I knew he'd understand when he discovered I let the air out of his tires in order to beat him to that agency (my alma mater taught us practical, real-life skills).
My own adventures involved a lot of phone calls that led nowhere. My first came from a Southern company that wanted to know if I'd be willing to fly down for an interview. Though my fear of flying was potent enough to make me nearly soil my boxers on the spot, I agreed, and the HR person I spoke with said he'd call on Monday (it was Friday) for details. Monday came and went with no phone call, and my return call the following day was never returned. I considered the encounter a success, however, because I spent most of the day practicing hypothetical questions, so I got a lot of "me" time.
Another instance involved a Michigan organization with an exciting opportunity. They were looking to modernize, and they were seeking someone to develop their social media applications. I was asked to develop a social media plan that they could analyze, which I did after a week of hard research. It was a business plan I had supreme confidence in, and one I truly felt would work. I would love to have known their opinion on the matter but a return phone call remained elusive. Though baffled, I was undeterred. The girls of my high school had long ago prepared me for not getting return calls.
One thing I have noticed being from Michigan is that everyone knows at least person who has endured hardship during this rough economic time, and most individuals are willing to offer a helping hand if possible. While watching the news last spring, I witnessed a school for pregnant teenagers being closed in Detroit. To protest the closing, students and teachers held a sit-in, and the news cameras captured police officers physically removing them from the building and placing them under arrest, sometimes a bit too physically. Having family members who are teachers -- not to mention several college friends who entered the profession -- I was frustrated to the point I wrote a blog on the Huffington Post criticizing the ad campaign attached to the Cameron Diaz movie Bad Teacher. I received so many emails from those in the educational field that I co-founded the "You Made A Difference" Campaign with a teacher (and Huffington Post reader) from suburban Philadelphia, a national effort to thank teachers who have made a difference in our lives.
The campaign, which was completely driven by Huffington Post readers, was a rousing success, and it was all thanks to the kindness of the Huffington Post and its readers. I was able to use the social media business plan I developed, and it was a pleasure to see our following pass the following of the Michigan organization who had asked me to create it in the first place. The pleasure wasn't out of spite -- I was excited not only to use my plan but to see that it really did work.
The reception of the "You Made A Difference" Campaign was also unexpected. My alma mater listed me as a notable alumnus only several months after my graduation, a distinction that has also gone to Green Bay Packers superstar Greg Jennings. Though I'll forever be grateful, it's a source of embarrassment I was noticed for pointing out educators get a raw deal in our country, something that's akin to merely pointing out the obvious. The real notable alums are those who know what they're getting themselves into and yet still have the courage and determination to seek to be educators. I know I couldn't do what they do.
Some of the funnier moments during the campaign involved doing interviews with a newspaper and several radio stations, something I thought I'd never be involved in. During one pre-recorded interview with a radio station, a producer was asking me questions, which caused me to lean forward into the microphone to respond. After a while of doing this the producer finally asked, "You do realize that these are just preliminary questions and that your microphone isn't actually on, right?"
Leaning forward into the microphone once more, I replied, "I do now."
Yes, I have passed the one year mark since receiving my Master's degree in Political Science, and yes, I'm still job searching. But there is no denying 2011 was a fantastic year, and I learned plenty. Patience, along with a sense of humor, is critical. There are lots of ups and downs but there's something to learn from every experience, and often times those learning opportunities can benefit you later. I also learned that I'm incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and caring group of family and friends to rely upon.
Though I'm still job searching, if 2012 is anything like 2011, it's going to be a great year.
Scott Janssen is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a Master's Degree in Political Science. He is also the co-founder of the "You Made A Difference" Campaign, a national effort to thank educators for their service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.