Alison Beth Waldman '10: Hard at Work

First Person - Hard at Work - Winter 2012

Alison Beth Waldman, a former intern at Denison Magazine, spent nearly a year on the hunt for a job that remained elusive. Waldman is part of the Millennial Generation (born 1980- 2000), also known as Generation Y. It’s a group that finds itself graduating into an iffy economy and job market, despite the fact that its members have worked hard for degrees from prestigious schools across the country. Recent college grads are learning that they can’t hang out in their parents’ basement eating Cheetos and waiting for calls from company execs begging to hire them. The job opportunities aren’t knocking on their doors, so Waldman tells us what the Millennials plan to do about that.

A recent article in the Huffington Post called my generation, the Millennial Generation, “the largest, most diverse, most open-minded, most tech-savvy, most eco-conscious generation in American history.”

Really? Golly gee, I’m blushing.

“… Millennials are also the most unemployed, in debt and generally screwed over. Despite their desire to contribute to this country’s greatness, Millennials may be the first generation in decades to face worse economic prospects than our parents and even grandparents.”

Oh yeah, that.

It’s been more than a year since I walked across that stage on South Quad, diploma in hand. I was jobless but confident that I wouldn’t be for long. After all, I attended Denison and thrived there. I won academic awards, was accepted to leadership summits and honoraries, and generally worked my tail off. I had glowing references. So in spite of the warnings from the news and recently graduated friends alike, I thought I was going to head into the “real world” wearing a magical suit that would prevent me from being burned by the economy.

That didn’t happen. I started out strong, completing an internship at a prestigious organization. After an unsuccessful flirtation with a job, I moved home and took a part-time job in retail. Months of endless applications and networking went by. I was discouraged and confused, and I even began to grow bitter toward my peers who had landed secure jobs. At last, in February, I scored a (barely) paid internship in Washington, D.C., that led to a permanent position as an editorial assistant. This past year and a half was sobering and frustrating, but I realized that I have to readjust to the times and find a way to create my own American Dream. And I’m not alone in this.

Statistics show that among the national class of 2010, only half of college graduates held a job at commencement (that compares with a 90 percent employment rate among graduates in 2007, by the way). The majority is further burdened by massive student debt, which, for the first time in history, surpasses the United States’ collective credit card debt.

We may be facing the worst of times, but this economic crisis has revealed that Millennials are reading up, speaking up, and kicking butt. In April, a national day of action was held in the form of “Briefcase Brigades.” Suited-up young Americans spoke with staffers and aides on Capitol Hill, and handed out “generational résumés,” which laid out the strengths of Generation Y: We’re the most educated generation in American history, we’re experts on constantly changing technology, and we’ve grown up more tolerant of diverse views and ideas. In May, young Americans released a “Budget for Millennial America,” written by members of Gen Y, which laid out the priorities and issues most salient to young Americans, such as college affordability and financial aid, green jobs, and investing in work that will help the economy recover.

Sitting smack dab in the whirlwind of a heated and multi-generational political discussion, I’ve learned a few things. First, showing that you’ve earned that degree no longer translates into a secure 401(k) and a swanky apartment—no matter where you went to school. These days, it means being resourceful and smart about your situation. Whether you’re lobbying, writing a blog, or just talking with your friends, staying well-rounded (a testament to my liberal arts education, I have to say) and informed is your best bet in navigating through this time of uncertainty. And it may not hurt to carry a briefcase—just in case.

A version of this essay originally appeared on sparkaction.org, where Waldman is happily employed.

Published December 2011