The job frenzy of senior year has begun. In the midst of finishing up graduation requirements, thinking about senior theses, hanging out with societies, collecting letters of recommendation and maybe possibly sleeping, most of us have one thought persistently buzzing in the back of our minds: Where on Earth am I going after graduation?
But despite the wide variety of post-graduation opportunities available to someone with a Yale degree, for so many of us, the answer will ultimately be the same.
According to the latest Office of Career Strategy report on post-grad plans, almost three-quarters of those in the class of 2014 who chose to reside in the United States after graduation did so in one of only five states: New York, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. And this is no aberration: The year before, for the class of 2013, the percentage was slightly higher, at 76 percent.
I recognize I’m likely too late to compete with the flurry of personalized emails already sitting in the inboxes of this year’s seniors. But for other students still trying to figure out how best to make an impact after graduation, I offer one suggestion: Consider going South.
Admittedly, I come to this suggestion with a bit of a bias. A proud product of the South myself, I have great pride for the gaggle of states below the Mason-Dixon line. And it’s that instinctual loyalty that drives me to convey that the South needs help.
Consider a few telling facts: Forty-eight percent of all persons with an AIDS diagnosis who died in the United States were from the South. Eight out of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South. Of the 10 states with the lowest college graduation rates, seven are in the South. Similar stories can be told about median incomes, reproductive rights for women, queer rights and support for impoverished Americans.
America’s most complex problems are concentrated in the South, and yet very few of America’s best and brightest go there to solve them. That brain drain is both damning and troubling.
But if the case for using your Yale education for good in the South is overwhelming, why do so few choose to return?
I have a few ideas.
For starters, there is a pervasive and malicious instinct on campus to laugh at the South’s problems without seriously engaging them. Blinded by stereotypes, we cannot put up enough mental energy to think about the intersection of Southern culture, history and politics, so we escape instead by resorting to jokes. Ironically to those of us from the South, many Yalies scoff at Confederate flag-waving rednecks for their bigotry and then turn around and defend the name of a white supremacist with vigorous intellectual panache.
Unbelievably, I’ve even had a personal conversation with a professor who, when I mentioned returning to Georgia, openly mocked me and suggested the rest of the country go ahead and secede from the South instead of trying to solve its problems.
Needless to say, we need a culture change first.
Second, we must ask ourselves why even the roughly 15 percent of Yalies from the South are not returning after graduation. On this, I don’t have an answer, but as a Southern Yalie once disillusioned by my hometown, I can understand the sentiment. What is it about Yale or an elite education that blinds us to our own past or severs the sense of obligation we have for our home states? If we want to counter brain drain, we’ll need to answer that question.
Third, finance and consulting are partially to blame. Fully 25 percent of every graduating class winds up using their American taxpayer-subsidized Yale education in pursuit of one of those two industries, and virtually none are doing so in the South. That drain of talent dwindles the number of Southbound Yalies even further.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, students have forgotten or never fully understood the social contract Americans have set up with institutions like Yale.
American taxpayers massively subsidize Yale’s endowment. They pour money into Pell Grants and other scholarships that help students afford to study here. And they give further tax breaks to students and their families to fund your education. This is an incredible amount of money, but American taxpayers are willing to foot the bill because, in return, elite educational institutions like Yale are supposed to produce students who are well-equipped to spread out across the country and solve our greatest problems.
But we don’t. More concerned about self-enrichment than impact, we convince ourselves that there are no real opportunities outsides of one of three cities: New York, San Francisco or Washington, D.C.
And the South — crying out for economic, medical and social reform — is cast aside as the punch line of your next joke. The opportunity is there for anyone willing to take a second look.
Tyler Blackmon is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com .