Graduates face great uncertainty, great hope

Published 9:31 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Those among us who have just graduated – Chowan University comes to mind – and those who will soon face a lot of uncertainty, whether they be entering the workforce, either from high school or from college, or if they’re planning to continue their education.

Let’s take a quick inventory: We’re fighting two wars, we’ve just dodged a swine flu pandemic (and now they say it might be going to attack us again, harder, later), the Earth is warming, if you’re finishing college you’ve got all those student loans, our economy is in the worst mess since the Great Depression, and Miss California USA nearly lost her crown.

Times are tough. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that just 20 percent of 2009 graduates who applied for jobs have been hired so far.

That’s not good. Whoever would have predicted that the most powerful nation on Earth couldn’t even provide jobs for its new college graduates? If you are among those, you may be wondering why you slaved for that sheepskin when you could have been making the big bucks catching crabs in the Bering Sea.

But sifting through the rejection letters, consider this: Can you think of any place better to ride this thing out?

Judging from the number of folks trying to get into this country, most of the world still believes we still have something to offer, even while we’re nursing a financial hangover and squabbling over whose fault it is. There’s something about this place that inspires people from all walks of life — even people who are successful in their homelands — to come here and start all over, even as we’re doubting ourselves and playing the blame game.

What do they see that we’re missing? What is it about the United States of America that attracts people in spite of our problems?

It’s a dream. A dream that is both simple and complex at the same time. A dream that pushes those who dream it to be more than they are.

It’s the American Dream that inspires people to work like mules to scratch out a better life. It’s the American Dream that seduces us into believing that the sky’s not the limit and that space isn’t either. It’s the American Dream that spawns imagination and innovation and determination to find better ways to work, to heal, to govern and even to play.

This dream is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the risk takers, the ones willing to sacrifice and to try the things others won’t or can’t. It’s a dream that has taken us to the moon, to cyberspace and into the inner chambers of the human heart.

Apparently, the rest of the world thinks this dream is alive and well, even as we ourselves wonder about that. And that is both the problem and the opportunity.

The American Dream is a dream of self-fulfilling prophecy. The true believers are not quitters. No matter how tough times may be, they try, they fail, then try again. They know there are no guarantees except for this: Nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen unless we keep working at it. And if we do keep working and believing, something good will usually come along.

Newcomers to America still see life through that prism of thought. But those of us who have been here over the past 30 or so years have gotten spoiled. With a booming economy that suffered only a few short-term hiccups, we began to believe that just being here and showing up for work every day was enough.

Now that kind of thinking is now biting us you-know-where.

But there is good news.

The good news is that you’re already here. The good news is that, at whatever level, you’ve got a fine education and that you’re ready to put it to work. The good news is that when this thing turns around, it’ll look a whole lot different than it did before. And you’ll be a part of that.

The good news is that The Dream is not dead. It lives inside everyone who believes in it enough to try, try again, then try some more.

I hope you believe, because we desperately need you to. You are, after all, the brightest example of the American Dream.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index. He can be reached via email at