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Where Do We Go Now?
At the end of last month, my friends and I donned some weird garb, did some fairly cultish, masonic kneeling, hand-clasping and bowing in a fancy ballroom and were mystically admitted to our various degrees.
The closest analogy I could muster was the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, with more unfathomable Latin and less pre-pubescent Daniel Radcliffery. And, of course, the fact that the graduation ceremony is one of departure, not arrival. But we did have on some distinctly Hogwarts-esque gowns, which, in my book, makes the two experiences practically the same.
And we're not alone. By the time September rolls around, the UK's universities will have churned out about 370,000 graduates. But, although we pose proudly for snap-happy parents and throw our caps into the air (NB: this always looks better in films), no one can quite shake off the underlying feeling of stepping over a precipice into nothingness.
A nothingness in which graduate unemployment just hit 25%. It seems that the Sorting Hat-Mortar Board has alighted upon our heads and instantly condemned us to the scrap heap of life.
Like many of my fellow graduates who find themselves lumbered with Arts degrees that apparently aren't going to cut it any more, I ponder my mistakes alone. In the dark. After falling off the wagon and overdosing on cake and reality TV in a last-ditch attempt to numb the pain of realisation.
As an English graduate, I have limited skills. It's a sad but true fact that there are few employers crying out for people who can write nice essays about metaphors. People just aren't that fussed about a graduate's ability to gloss Shakespeare's neologisms in Troilus and Cressida. After waking up from my fifteenth night-sweat, the options left seem to be to buy some bottlestop glasses and reinvent myself as a librarian, or to buy some bottlestop glasses and reinvent myself as a librarian.
And for those clever ones clutching B.Sc.s in their hot little hands, I imagine it feels a bit like you were conned into thinking you'd got a precious golden ticket with which you could pass freely into the wondrous career factory without let or hindrance. And you do. Except that there are hundreds of thousands of golden tickets. And only 5 places on Willy Wonka's special tour. Go figure, as our American cousins might say.
Of course, graduating into a recession was never going to be a laugh a minute. Many of us might find ourselves back with our parents, in the bedrooms we thought we had bid a fond farewell to three years before. Or succumbing to the money-draining and morale-battering unpaid internship route, in which we offer ourselves as slaves to the employers who won't give us paid work. Or frantically applying for further study, to shelter within what seems like the only port in the storm.
I'd love to offer a rousing, light-at-the-end of-the-tunnel conclusion here, but I don't have one. The best option we have is probably to have an Austerity Britain moment and devote our energies to Keeping Calm and Carrying On.
Like everything else, this too shall pass. But I can't help but think that, once it finally does, young people's lives will be very different from those that have gone before.