Column: Striving for success or fulfillment?

So what’s next? The world seems pretty intimidating to a soon-to-be graduate of the Class of 2003.

Many will leave college for the “real world” with as many questions as they had when they entered. “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” probably seems as difficult a question now as it was then. Yet, this time those questions seem a little more persistent and are tacked with a lot more pressure – from parents, peers and yourself.

A lot has happened since your careless four-day weekends that began at Pangea on Thursdays. Today – despite all the celebrating this week – it all begins to seem so serious. Our generation faces the highest unemployment rate in decades, which makes graduate school incredibly competitive and the job market thin and unpredictable. Despite this, the loans that have piled for four years will still have to be paid.

In such a critical time in our lives, we often mistake the things we love and are passionate about, with things that are practical, lucrative or realistic. Suddenly, we are told that we can’t live outside the box of a normal life, that individualism is supreme and we must aggressively compete with each other for diminishing jobs. We are taught that we must succeed first and foremost, even at the expense of our passions, dreams and physical and spiritual health.

A friend of mine just graduated and has aggressively been going through interviews in New York. He hates Wall Street and wants to do educational theater for youth on social issues. With college finished, debt looming and no theatrical jobs lined up, he regretfully concedes to his parents’ dreams.

As we put more rigorous pressure on ourselves to succeed materially, we begin to loose our sense of the collective. Yet to loose such perspective can be remarkably damaging in a world where our choices have consequences on the lives of others less fortunate than we are. The demands on our generation have never been so stringent, and we run the risk of not helping those who fall along the way, can’t keep up or are never even given the opportunity to compete.

At a time of historic technological growth and discovery, the elite few continue to gain in wealth and stature while the struggling many strive for basic necessities and even survival. The question is what kind of world we want to live in. The degree that is being celebrated this week comes with a responsibility. Your parents will remind you that the price is $120,000, yet you must ask yourself, “What is the value?”

What does this Commencement and all your personal choices mean as you ascend into your role as a global citizen? All around us we face endless uncontrollable challenges, such as the tornadoes that recently hit Illinois, widespread poverty, the global AIDS epidemic, access to basic medicine, global terrorism, the recent SARS epidemic, environmental devastation, racism, global trade, immigration…. and this list goes on.

I don’t know that any academic institution can ever truly prepare you for what lies ahead. As individuals we must first determine the very fabric in which our soul is woven and decide whether we will live our lives contributing to these problems, ignoring them, or confronting them and inciting change.

The starting point is by doing something spiritually fulfilling; a job or the pursuit of a degree, in whatever field it may be, that allows you to grow, challenges you, and allows you to strive to be the very best person you can be for yourself and the community around you.
-The writer, a graduate student in The School of Political Management, is a Hatchet columnist.

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