I am a 2020 graduate of Emory University, but in the current crisis I don't really know what that means.
To be precise, I suppose I know what that should mean. It should mean that I'm a newly minted, somehow adultier adult set to make his debut on the world stage. It should mean that I've learned exactly what I need to know to navigate the complexities of the current moment and what I need to do to apply myself with the utmost vigor.
Even beyond all that bullshit, at the very least it should mean that I can now get a job. Like, a good job, not something that requires cleaning grease traps or asking whether they'd like paper or plastic (no offense to all the great, smart, beautifully compelling people that I've known during my time in the food service industry).
Yet, given that the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that unemployment hit somewhere around 14.7% last month, higher than any point in time in American history outside of the Great Depression, I'm not exactly filled with overwhelming optimism.
Newly minted though I may be, I don't know if I know what it is that I need to know, vigor be damned.
I suppose I've put off writing about this despite the fact that I technically graduated 13 days ago because it pains me to have to face a reality so strained and grim. Three months ago, I thought I was set to graduate into one of the best economies in the history of the nation. Now I'm faced with one of the worst.
What's more, I've squarely found myself among the ranks of the Don't Knows. Forgive my presumption at the gaudy capitalization of that term if you will, but for those of us who've left the relatively cozy confines of academia with the singular answer of "I don't know," the phrase has taken on a particularly stark meaning in light of the pandemic.
While I've watched a parade of friends near and far announce to the reaches of cyberspace that they'll be attending this law school or that master's program, me and my fellow Don't Knows have been left to grasp at a much more uncertain reality that shifted under our feet literally overnight, and that continues to shift with each passing day. A close friend of mine had initially been the lucky recipient of a paid internship from Tesla, then he hadn't, then he had again. Now, as I sit here writing this, he's somewhere out crossing a desert on his way to San Francisco. In three months, where will he be? In three months, where will I be?
I don't mean to be overly pessimistic. If you know me, you know that I am normally among the most optimistic, measured, forward-thinking persons out there. I can't imagine myself ever getting a tattoo, but if I did, that one Dumbledore quote, wherein the famed headmaster reminds us that "happiness can be found in the darkest of places, if one only remembers to turn on the light," would be a very strong contender.
At the same time, I am not blind to the realities of this age. A deadly infectious agent has spread around the globe, our economy has screeched to a halt, and we are trapped in a decisive election year in a time that is only ever politically marked by greater and greater contention.
I don't think you need me to tell you that this is not a pretty picture, folks.
Of course, I personally am not so woebegone, even compared to my fellow Don't Knows. I serendipitously have gainful employment in an industry that is related to my major. As you may've guessed, I have Odyssey. And, as I've read time and again (and even recited one or twice) Shakespeare did his best work during a plague; I fortunately happen to be in about the same line of work as Shakespeare.
My immediate family is also healthy, safe, and mostly employed. I can't say exactly the same for my extended family, but together we're getting by. As eager as some in the punditry (myself included a mere eight paragraphs ago) have been to draw comparisons to the Great Depression, I have yet to see anyone rushing to grow a thrift garden or standing in block-long lines to collect a crust of bread (though a March report in my home state about dairy farmers dumping milk does bear eerie similarity to that earlier troubled time).
Still, that does not erase the very real struggles that have come to bear during this (ugh) truly unprecedented time.
So, what of hope? What of it, says the dolorous man. It's gone and dead from the world. As it were, I can't go there. Can't concur. Not fully. Not yet. While I have not been inspired by the perpetually troubling statistics streaming out of governments and universities everywhere, nor have I any great confidence in the morose commentary blabbered from the mouth of our president or his inner circle, that is not to say the world is suddenly a barren place. Far from it.
Though it's been memeified and bandied silly over the past months, healing that has come to the environment is a beautiful thing. A simple smile brought on by the twitch of rabbit nose in my front lawn fills my heart. The sun is returning to my northern land, and with it brings the promise of summer heat. I have time to pick up a book, and not of the sort given to me by a professor, for the first time in ages. And even as far apart as we may be, I can use the little robots in these hereto black mirrors to speak and laugh and live with people I care about deeply.
In short, the world may be off-kilter, but it's far from shattered. And those parts that do need mending are eminently capable of being fixed.
I would have liked to use this space to celebrate my college years. To look back at my friends and the time we spent together at a little place in north Georgia. But the world has made me grow up faster than that. Made us all, Don't Know or Knowing alike.
There'll be time for reflection, both broad and narrow, in the age yet to come. But for now I think I'll sit still, nay I think I must sit still, with that little pit of anxiety at the bottom of my stomach, embrace the uncertain, and smell the sweet scent of May flowers.