“Great numbers!” I overheard the man who runs Undergraduate Career Services babble these words, not very discreetly, at a recent fair, expressing that his priority is quantity, not quality. I’d never been to a UCS event before, mostly because I couldn’t find them — their location is about as far away from undergraduates as possible.
But this fair was at the gym. They splurged on a great big banner clinging to the walls of Payne Whitney (a kind of self-indulgence I have to respect). My mother always says, “Andy Warhol said the secret of life is to show up”; and often, Andy and Mom are right. I am not interested in a corporate job, so I thought a nonprofit career fair might be interesting.
So the big day comes. I remember to go — no small thing — but forget my resume, such as it is, and write no talking points. I don’t dress up, either, which draws visible scorn from UCS staff. Please. This event is in a basketball court; are we really supposed to take it seriously? It may come as a surprise to UCS, but it’s hard to impress a potential employer, no matter what you wear, while basketballs pound the floor beside you. The joggers above don’t exactly add to the atmosphere, either.
I look at the list of organizations represented. To call it pathetic would be a corruption of language of which only the reactionary left is capable. This fair begins to look so lame that I nervously look around, embarrassed someone I know might see me. I’m here for the free pens, I’ll assure them.
I start roaming the floor, warily, trying not to make eye contact with anyone behind a booth. At one point, unsure of where I am, I look up. In the sweetest voice, a woman asks me, “Do you like children?” No, not really. Then, from the other side, “Do you like animals?” My father didn’t allow pets in the house, so I can’t deal with animals. Besides, I’m allergic. “Can I take a mousepad anyway?” I ask, guiltily.
I see a crowd of people ahead of me. It’s the CIA table, of course. I push through to snatch a lapel pin. On my way, I see CIA employees of every conceivable ethnicity, race and gender, briefing undergraduates on the advantages of studying East Asian languages instead of political science. Resumes are exchanged. Langley’s proximity to Washington, D.C. — “a great city for young people” — is discussed. No wonder the CIA is the disaster it is today. They recruit like they’re Charles Schwaab.
The Navy is the most interesting table I see. I want to serve my country, and I’d like to be in the armed forces, but there’s the whole “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing. I left the closet when I was 15 and I’m not going back. Still, I pick up a nifty water bottle emblazoned with the Navy seal in addition to the requisite pen, mousepad and Tootsie roll.
Just as I think I’ve loaded up on enough party favors, I see something very appealing — coffee, tea, Perrier, water crackers, grapes — a sumptuous buffet. Elated, I hustle over. As I ponder red grapes versus green grapes, a shrill voice booms, “No! Staff only — there is candy for you upstairs.” It’s good to see their priorities are in order. I take a bottle of Perrier and don’t look back, grabbing 15 miniature Snickers bars on my way out.
I skipped the European career fair, but I did make it to the graduate school fair. I spend most of my time there chatting with the dear septuagenarian who represents the University of Bridgeport’s medical center. I’m not interested in homeopathic back-pain relief, true, but soon it is clear she is the most precious thing in the room.
“They don’t want me here,” she tells me, referring to UCS and Yale. “But I come back each time. Not many people talk to me — we’re not Harvard, I know. But most years, a few students do come over. And if I affect one person, if I change one life, then it’s all worth it.”
Career Services: I hope you’re listening.
Davi Bernstein is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. His column appears regularly on alternate Mondays.