Rachel del Valle | Finding purpose for our ‘lost generation’


Duly Noted | Has the shrinking job market defined the limits of our ambition?


racheldelvalle

Rachel del Valle
Duly Noted

Photo by Rachel del Valle


If you’ve perused any news source in the last month or so, you’ve likely seen something about America’s unique brain drain. There have been a number of pieces that seek to explain the causes and effects of the disproportionate move of the “best and the brightest” into the financial industry in recent decades.

The reason for this shift is not simply the lure of the financial industry but the lack of other attractive options. There’s a security in taking a job that offers a clear map of what you will be doing and how much money you will be making in the years after college. In a generation like ours, with so much stress on material wealth and a shrinking job market, careers in consulting and finance — with all their certainty — seem like a better option than most.

Has the turbulence of our times sapped us of our creative ambitions? With the limited job options and the seemingly limited desire to create new ones, I have to wonder if we, too, are all a lost generation. Unlike the Hemingways before us, our disillusionment hasn’t led us to the smoky cafes of Paris, but to Wall Street.

An editorial published this past week by the staff of The Harvard Crimson came under criticism for its tone regarding a demonstration against Goldman Sachs at an on-campus recruiting event. The piece defended the bank, calling it “simply one actor out of many,” saying the protesters’ targeting of the company “debases our national conversation on the issue.”

But here’s the thing: the Occupy demonstrations are exactly what have inspired national conversation by bringing the failures of the financial industry to the forefront of the evening news and public consciousness. We are talking about these things because of the protests. With an encampment in every major U.S. city, we feel we have to. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

The most cringe-inducing part of the editorial may be the Crimson’s assertion that “an excellent argument could be made that the millions of Americans who took on mortgages beyond their means are equally responsible as a group for the financial meltdown.”

Whatever grain of truth there may be in that statement, the way it is written doesn’t go down easily. Language like this perpetuates the stereotype of Ivy League students as socially apathetic snobs who only care about how much money they can make with their degrees. Actions by a small number of Penn students at October’s demonstration against Eric Cantor (see below) show that our campus isn’t immune to this kind of ignorance.

Incidentally, The New York Times recently reported that Goldman Sachs canceled its fall undergraduate information session on Penn’s campus.

I can’t really understand why so many college students are either actively or passively opposed to the Occupy movement. For every person who snarkily shouts “Get a job!” there’s someone who more subtly but no less flippantly rolls her eyes and writes it off as “disorganized.” But even if you don’t support Occupy’s methods or loosely defined goals, how can you remain indifferent to what it stands for?

There’s something wrong with the structure of our financial systems. Given the current economic status of our country, I don’t really think there’s any denying that. Something has to change. Unless you apply the same logic to the financial crisis as some use to justify global warming. It’s not manmade; it’s just part of a natural cycle.

Maybe we are a new kind of lost generation. I think we have the chance to make something of that identity. We don’t have to write novels dripping with ennui or become expatriates. Our task is simpler and less glamorous than that. Instead, all that we have to do is accept the collapse of structures once held as infallible, identify their inherent problems and try to do something to fix them. Rather than shying away from change and protest, we should embrace it — or at least try to understand it.

The targeting of individual institutions may feel threatening to some, but I think the reactions with which these protests are met only makes the situation worse. The more distance we put between ourselves and the 99 percent, the more we fool ourselves into believing that our education exempts us from having to deal with the real world.

Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is rdel@sas.upenn.edu. Duly Noted appears every Monday.

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