Last summer, I worked as an investment banking analyst. Next year, I will work as a legal analyst at a large bank. (Yes, there are nonfinancial positions at investment banks, too.) I do not represent all Yalies who will be working for financial institutions or consulting firms next year, nor do I claim to know what people should or shouldn’t do after graduation. In fact, I think that kind of condescending attitude is one of the fundamental problems with the current rhetoric surrounding postgraduation finance and consulting positions.
With plans to “occupy” investment bank information sessions, the debate about what Yalies should do after graduation has entered a decidedly shallow, uninformed phase. I refuse to let a few loud voices dominate the dialogue about a phenomenon irreducible to easy slogans and marginalizing generalizations.
The reality is that everyone has his or her own reasons for entering these industries — or any job. It’s a shame that many assume that anyone deciding to take on these positions is making a shallow, short-term or selfish decision. These people say Yale should prepare leaders who are capable of changing the world and making a difference in society. If they grant Yalies that degree of respect, they should also concede that their classmates who enter consulting or finance will have the deliberative faculty to ask the right questions, to take a proactive approach in understanding their industries and to assess for themselves how they fit into their ultimate goals, which are constantly in flux.
If any Yalie tells you she is accepting a postgraduation job that she hasn’t really taken the time to understand, she is likely lying. The people I’ve met here are self-directed individuals who think ahead and scrutinize their decisions. People have compelling reasons for going into consulting and finance beyond mere monetary gain or prestige-hunting.
Many who assert that these industries are evil at face value do not understand their importance. But it’s unfair to make this judgment about everyone. What makes being a writer or a farmer or a painter more laudable than working at a consulting firm? Consider professional football players who make millions, or the people who deliver our mail each day: Both work to supply a service that is demanded by the marketplace. Bankers, traders, equity researchers and consultants provide a service that has been assigned a particular value — they receive compensation that reflects such value. It is fair to object to how society values different professions, but it is unfair to demonize the people who reap rewards for their work.
Furthermore, just because people have the capacity to err doesn’t make them inherently evil, a claim which has been made too often in this debate. At the end of the day, in a functioning democratic society like our own, no one has the moral high ground to assign normative judgments to lawful occupations that all pay their workers. Above all else, we should hope that people enjoy what they do.
I don’t claim that one occupation is more legitimate than another, and neither should anyone else. I refuse to believe that my peers are entering these industries with ignorance and indifference — I give my wonderful classmates far more credit than that. I fully understand that people and artichokes alike are doubtful, but that doesn’t imply that they’re making uneducated decisions about their future, bereft of introspection.
Are there exceptions? Are some people motivated by questionable aims in pursuing these positions? Probably, but when these exceptions become the unfair standard, as they have on our campus in recent months, we must stand up and defend those who have thought long and hard about the decisions they’re making to enter these industries. We must occupy unenlightened dialogue.
I understand what Marina Keegan and the Yale members of the Occupy New Haven movement are trying to accomplish. They want to galvanize discussion around an issue they don’t fully understand. They want to make sure their friends aren’t making decisions about their futures solely on the basis of money, assumed prestige, persuasive information sessions or other factors they deem illegitimate. They seek to urge their peers to think more critically about how they can make a difference.
As I’ve been fortunate enough to learn here, there are indeed so many ways to change the world, contribute to mankind and be productive. The occupiers are justified in challenging the notion that these industries are the ideal fields for Yalies to enter after they graduate. Sadly, there is a severe disconnect between their reasonable concerns and the way in which they have been expressed.
It’s unfair for them to generalize and condemn all who work in finance or consulting as evil, thoughtless or disingenuous. I am optimistic that this dissonance between the occupiers’ fears and the way in which they articulate those fears can be rectified, but it must finally be acknowledged.
Travis Gidado is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.