Last week I attended my niece’s high school graduation. While sweating to death in a giant stadium, my fiance and I listened to the class valedictorians’ inside jokes and their hopes for the future.
For the most part, their speeches were fun and uplifting, highlighting all the emotions graduating high school seniors should be feeling. However, a few things they said did jump out at me, mostly about following your dreams “whatever they may be.”
Given the global recession, stagnant wages, and general difficult time getting jobs for graduates, is following your dreams really good advice for the graduating class of high school seniors? Or am I just being a grumpy old curmudgeon, trying to crush young folks’ hopes and dreams?
Pros to Following Your Dream
Others Have Done it Successfully
Beyond the famous people who followed their passions (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, David Karp), many other people have followed their interests to great success. You don’t necessarily need a business degree to be successful, as long as you have some common sense and a strong work ethic.
Who’s to Say You’re Not a Success?
Depending on how you define success, maybe making enough to survive doing what you love is success. After all, not everyone aspires to live in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house working a 9-to-5 job. That artist living in a studio apartment in a “bad” part of town may be perfectly happy with his unconventional life. They work to live, not live to work.
Having an Adventurous Life is Enough
Many people travel or live an active lifestyle and never have a conventional life. For them, living an adventurous life is all they’ve ever wanted, and they make their finances work around their passions. Even if it’s hard for a boring person like me to understand, there is an element to it that looks pretty appealing!
Cons to Following Your Dream
Pay Off Debt
Unless these future college graduates get enough scholarships or have generous parents, college graduates may have a hard time paying off their student loans.
Certain degrees (and subsequent jobs in those majors, like education or health care) will help you to pay off your student loans faster, but unless you choose a high-paying field, it may take several years to pay off debt. Paying off debt may also stymie your goals of owning a business or living a more bohemian lifestyle.
Depending on how well your high school counselor or parents worked with you, did you go into college knowing exactly what you wanted to be? Many kids have competing interests. For me, I love writing but also have an aptitude for math, which is why I now work in finance. Others love art but are also talented at biology.
Perhaps the focus should be on two paths – a major in biology and a minor in art, for instance. Others may want to investigate a degree in computer engineering but take elective classes in other topics they also enjoy.
This is when internships come in handy. The sooner college students are able to try out internships in different fields, the better perspective they will have on their major.
As someone approaching 30, many of my wild friends (and the not-so-wild ones too) are starting to settle down. They have amazing stories and pictures for their future kids, but they’re struggling with debt and finding a satisfying career.
Several have gone back to school for an entirely new degree, while others have gone back for a few courses to make themselves more marketable. Beyond taking on more debt to pay for this, they’re now also worrying about paying for a house and childcare.
Your thoughts and priorities, unless you’re a very mature 18 year old, are bound to change dramatically by the time you’re 30. Do we owe it to the graduating seniors to help them consider their future selves? While I think it’s a noble goal, I’m not entirely sure 18-year-olds are going to listen to us. After all, how receptive were you to practical advice as an 18-year-old?
All that said, it may be a moot point for this and future graduating classes. Perhaps I’m not giving them enough credit for paying attention to the last five years. When I asked my niece what she wanted to study in college, she replied “medicine.” Knowing that’s not her first passion, I asked why. Her response? “Baby boomers currently need and will continue to need quality health care. I’ll never be out of a job!”
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What advice would you give to graduating high school seniors: pursue dreams or practicality? Do you think you have to sacrifice one for the other?