Ideal graduation gift: tuition or a job

Wondering what to get that high school or college graduate for a gift. Well, for openers, how about a hefty advance toward tuition—or some suitable employment?

At a time when private colleges are gouging students and jobs are at a premium, it’s become a delirious world for many. The straight and narrow path has been beaten to a pulp.

But all is not lost, fellow graduate. There’s still much to learn from the school of experience. Although this isn’t meant to be a commencement address, I’ve been to enough graduations to tell you the real world of education begins now, regardless of what the predicament might be.

Speakers will tell you where to stand. It might be in the vanguard of opportunity or the threshold of a career. But you look around and see the world in a tenuous state, thinking all is lost.grad

My heart goes out to the family provider who suddenly gets pink-slipped or the faithful employee with years of service being told they’re no longer needed.

I feel especially bad for these students coming out of college with 16 years of education under their belt who cannot find work anywhere and spend their time perusing the computer or switching channels on a TV set.

I’ve been subjected to it in my own family with a son who graduated magna cum laude from Tufts and was unemployed for a year during the recession of 1992.

Like thousands of others, he sent out resumes with boundless optimism, only to get the cold shoulder. At least in those days, a lot of employers sent out rejection slips. Today, you’re lucky to get any response. He finally went to a temp agency, got a job, and is still there today.

 It’s difficult for parents, too, especially if the tuition bill comes out of their pocket.

“Go to college and secure an education,” I’ve always preached to my three children. “Only then will you get a decent job with security and benefits.”

What does a philosophical parent say now? How can they explain a stagnant economy? If it’s any consolation, consider this. Before I was secure, I was insecure, playing the job market like a traveling salesman and often pushing doors marked “pull.”

I’ve been fired. I’ve been laid off. I’ve had jobs I hated and those I’ve enjoyed. I’ve answered ads and had the door slammed in my face. I’ve seen less-qualified people do better than qualified ones.

This year’s graduation class remains in a precarious state. We know that. Students will be competing with people who’ve lost their jobs in downsizing. Guidance counselors must be tearing their hair out for new ways to say things are bound to improve. I recognize their anguish.

My advice to idle graduates may be no better than their guidance counselors, but here it is anyway. If you think universities are way out of your price range, try a community college. Go two years, transfer to a state school, and get a four-year degree.

By then, the economy might be stabilized. Who knows, you may qualify for aid and take advantage of other opportunities that may arise. Not being in school may put you into a funk.

If I were a college graduate now, I might just forget the diluted job market and instead, do something that might benefit society. I would consider spending a year doing humanitarian service.

I would join the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity, visit a third-world country and offer some service, either with my mind or my hands.

I just came from a country where the unemployment rate is 50 percent. Armenia is hardly a utopia when it comes to economic stability. After three weeks there, visiting the remote villages, I came to the conclusion that an optimist is one who makes the best of it when he gets the worst of it.

People there were resigned to their state, living off the sweat of the land and being resourceful. Despite the poverty and desolation, I also noticed there was no compromise toward education. The children are being sent to school and were well maintained.

They’ve learned to live with less, not more.

Take time to smell the roses. Learn to laugh at your foibles. Kindness and understanding are values no college ever taught me. Most of all, the giving of love and respect is an education in itself.

In this graduate year, put your shoulder to the wheel, roll up those sleeves, and do what comes naturally. A sense of fulfillment, whether it pays or not, can work miracles.

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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2 Comments


  1. I have another recommendation to add!  I just bought this book “Young Guns” for my son who just graduated from college.  I got it on amazon.com but you can probably get it at any major bookstore.  My son is SO LAZY but after he read this he realized what it takes to become successful.  Now, he’s taking initiative, being proactive, and working his way up!  I recommend this book :) 

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