MIDDLEBURY — On Sunday morning, 570 newly minted Middlebury College graduates threw their mortarboards into the clear blue sky.
By all accounts, the graduates, degrees in hand, were passing on into a very slow economy. They were joining the estimated 1.6 million students in the country graduating this year with a bachelor’s degree. Most of them are looking for jobs.
But signs indicate that the job market, at least in many fields, is picking up, according to Jaye Roseborough, executive director of the college’s career services.
“This year all our numbers have felt strong,” she said. “We actually increased our number of recruiters (on campus), and increased our number of listed opportunities by 10 percent.”
Unlike last year, she said, some of the banks have even been hiring, and that optimism looks to be trickling out to other fields as well. Though Roseborough does not yet have any clear numbers on how many seniors are graduating with job offers, anecdotally, she said, her office has heard more success stories than it did last year.
But though the job market appears to have begun its slow recovery, Roseborough’s optimism was tempered.
“That’s not to say that those that aren’t employed aren’t going to have a tough job of it,” she said.
The speakers at the commencement ceremony were adamant that, job prospects or not, there are other ways for the graduates to measure success.
Student speaker Peter Baumann was among those to offer encouraging words.
“Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said that success is ‘peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you did the best to become the best you are capable of becoming,’” Baumann said. “We cannot help but feel successful, recession or not.”
The keynote speakers, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, reminded the students that job prospects aren’t everything. In their joint speech, the husband-and-wife team responded to the class’s employment prospects by counseling the graduates to focus on learning as much as possible and to give back. High salaries and material wealth, they said, could only offer so much satisfaction in life.
Kristof and WuDunn began with a story about their move to Beijing as a young couple to report for The New York Times. They recounted their discovery of what they thought was a surveillance bug in their apartment, shortly after their move to Beijing. After a show of hands on what those in the audience would have done (most responded “feed the bug misinformation”), they revealed that the device had turned out to be their doorbell.
This, and the tales of their other missteps and accidents over the years, related to their first admonition to the young graduates: See the world and learn as much as possible.
“Get out to places where you don’t have a clue,” Kristof said.
“If you’re enjoying every moment of life, you’re not learning enough, and you’re not growing enough,” WuDunn said.
But exploring the world and learning about it can only get one so far in life. Their second message to the students was to use their knowledge and experience to help others.
“The fact is that all of you have won the global jackpot,” Kristof said. “The question is what you will give back, and how.”
“In the process, you will gain perspective,” WuDunn added. “You will be happier. And we have no doubt, you will change the world.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.