Students who make their way to Yale don’t write admissions essays about their aspirations in the corporate world. At 17 and 18, we dreamed of changing ourselves and the world, whether tramping around sub-Saharan Africa quinine in hand or rooting out social injustice right here in America. During our summers, weekends and breaks many of us do just that, taking advantage of the service opportunities available through our university, whether through Reach Out, Dwight Hall or the dozens of other campus groups that dedicate themselves entirely to service. Yet by the time we face graduation, most of us find ourselves queued up for miles at the gates of the for-profit world, begging McKinsey recruiters like we once begged admissions officers for a spot among God’s elect.
I, like many graduating seniors, have been grappling with the existential crisis provoked by the above realization throughout the job interview process. I, who grew up dreaming of becoming a soldier, who came to college with grand intentions of returning to Oklahoma and changing my state for the better, am now standing outside the offices of middle-managers in New York. These people work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and I, like them, am about to dedicate my professional life to the efficient allocation of capital.
Forty stories up in the heart of Manhattan, you can feel yourself at the nexus of the world economy. From here, the places we grew up in look small and unimportant, the fact inescapable that these three rows of desks contribute more to the American economy than does my entire home county. You can feel the rat race seeping from the soft fluorescent lights, a feeling accompanied by the gentle hum of thousands of bright young minds scrambling furiously toward a house in New Canaan or some other unknown objective.
Whatever one’s thoughts on Fairfield County, the rat race itself isn’t the tragedy. Those of us without the benefit of inexhaustible inherited wealth or the courage to commit our lives to something truly wild — going pro in a rock band, buying a one-way ticket to a foreign country and never looking back — will have to work to support ourselves, and eventually, our families.
The tragedy is that so many are so eager to sign on for a life dictated by BlackBerries and that we, myself included, do so while we are so young. We all dreamed of going off the map, of adventure, of doing something crazy or unique or distant, but the reality that accompanies our first credit card bill does much to put such notions to rest. Indeed, many of us will leave here in May and start new jobs on the first of June.
As I sign on with a wonderful firm that I am tremendously excited to work with, I cannot shrug the notion that the window for doing something different is closing. I can do something wild and crazy now because I am accountable to no one other than myself; as I age and responsibility accrues, that will no longer be the case. The corporate train is one that rarely stops from start to retirement, and by getting on at 22, I effectively guarantee that I will never be a Marine officer, join the Peace Corps or do any of the other dozens of things young people can do to prove themselves as women and men.
I know that I am lucky to be working and blessed to have the luxury of an “existential crisis” — working hard just to get by is the rule rather than the exception. Still, one cannot help but wonder how life would turn out if a 45-year career in office black was exchanged for 43 of the same and two in Marine blue.
Kevin Symcox is a senior in Silliman College.