Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wouldn't surprise me at all

Today I was standing at the meat counter at Central Market waiting for the guy to weigh out a pound of ground lamb. I was wearing my Stanford t-shirt and he nodded at it and asked, "Did you go there?" I answered yes and after a moment's pause asked "Did you?" He shook his head.

As I was driving home I thought about this brief encounter. Was that a stupid question? He's a dude working at a meat counter at a grocery store. He probably makes $10-$12 an hour and if he's lucky, he works full time. Would a guy with a Stanford degree be working that job?

The answer was, clearly, that it wouldn't surprise me. In fact, it brought to mind an article in the Daily Texan last week that so ticked off some of my fellow Plan II alumni that they actually emailed us all and asked us to write in a response. I did not. The author, a Mr. Player, wrote that though only a junior he was already questioning his choice to major in Plan II. He met a cashier at Whole Foods who asked what he majored in and then responded, "Hey, that was my major, too!" He says it scared him - would he not be able to find a job after graduation?

A few days later I saw this article (is there a reason why this is smacking me in the face continuously this week?) on why kids from Harvard head to Wall Street. No, I didn't go to Harvard. No, I'm not on Wall Street (I wish I was sometimes!) But this particular section struck a chord:
"The typical Harvard undergraduate is someone who: (a) is very good at school; (b) has been very successful by conventional standards for his entire life; (c) has little or no experience of the “real world” outside of school or school-like settings; (d) feels either the ambition or the duty to have a positive impact on the world (not well defined); and (e) is driven more by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything in particular."
 Yup, that sounds like me in a nutshell. The thing I was best at was learning. That's why Plan II was a good major for me, and I certainly obtained a well-rounded education. That's why I pursued an ivy-league graduate education. I learned much during my five years of higher education and feel like a more learned person because of it.

But what did it prepare me for? While I enjoy the work that I do, I get paid peanuts compared to most Stanford graduates. I'm not entirely sure my graduate education even really helped me land my job - I think an undergraduate education would have been sufficient enough for my current position.

Recently I was speaking with someone who is a high school graduate, no college, applying for a job as an administrative assistant. She will make more per year than I. And while I'm happy for her, it sometimes makes me wonder if my well-rounded education was worth its value. Why didn't I do something more practical, like get a degree in math, or accounting, or education, or engineering?

I guess I could always go work at Central Market, if it comes to it.

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