Ok! So over the last few months I’ve worked to make this blog as readable and easy to enjoy as possible with a more intuitive layout, minimal advertising, and reliable posts. I hope you like it! Now it’s time to tackle my other baby, PippaCooks. Today, I am very excited to announce the redesign of PippaCooks! PippaCooks, my secret stash of healthy (and healthyish) recipes, is now easier to navigate so that you can find what your craving as quickly as possible. I’ve also added a twitter feed, follow section, and links to recent pippabiddle.com posts so you can stay up to date. PippaCooks, just like all of my blogs, is updated once a week (Thursday) so that you can get food you love without overwhelming your inbox. In other awesome news, as of today I relaunched my personal Facebook Page. It has been dormant for two years so forgive me for any dust that I haven’t dealt with yet. If you don’t want to follow all of my blogs by email, my Facebook page will be the best way to keep on top of things. Each post will be shared there, along with photos and special Facebook-only content. Finally, on August 6th I will celebrate my 22nd birthday by launching PippaLoves, a new blog all about style, beauty, and home decor! I am very excited to finally have a place to share my tips, tricks, and favorite trinkets. Just as PippaBiddle has become a go-to place for authentic opinion pieces and PippaCooks has built a following on food for a full life, I envision PippaLoves as a space for young people to embrace natural beauty, laid back style, and the wonderful world we live in. While the first PippaLoves post wont be up until August 6th, please subscribe now to ensure that you wont miss a thing! And, of course, you can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Thank you for letting me do some housekeeping. I will be back on schedule with my regular weekly post next Tuesday (7.29.14)!
I overheard a conversation in the gym locker room recently between three 30-something year old women. One woman was worried that she wouldn’t be able to have kids. Many of her unmarried girlfriends had frozen their eggs while she had held out hope that things would work out in the expected order, but here she was at 35 without a significant other and draining optimism as far as her ability to have “it all”: a loving partner, a great job, financial stability, and children.
Earlier in the week, I’d been talking to a friend of mine who is sure that she does not want to have children. She’ll be an amazing Aunt or Godmother, but doesn’t feel strongly about having children of her own. These parallel discourses, the panic of delayed parenthood and the decision to not have children, have taken a front-and-center spot in the psyche of many a millennial woman.
For a generation that grew up watching the Duggar family raise 19 kids on TV, you’d think that we’d be drawn to packed dinner tables and minivans. Turns out, we are actually shifting away from large families and choosing to be childless at record breaking rates.
In the 1970’s 1 in 10 women were “childless”, according the Pew Research Center that number is now closer to 1 in 5. Authors, psychologists, and high-profile celebrities are challenging the perception that deep down every woman is yearning to become a mother, and that those who don’t are selfish or hate children.
Research has shown that people with children are “richer, better educated and healthier” than those without. But it fails to show any difference in happiness. Of course, here we are assuming that the decision to have children falls squarely on a woman’s shoulders. It does not account for infertility, finances, or any other circumstances that could prevent, or delay, a woman in getting pregnant.
I can’t help but think that the woman in the gym locker room and Cameron Diaz, perhaps the most well-known woman to forego motherhood, have a lot in common. Women today, myself included, have better access to education, financial freedom, and career opportunities than ever before, and we are pursuing those opportunities to the fullest. We are receiving terminal degrees, moving into corner offices, and are putting off dating, marriage, and child-rearing to do so.
For some, this is seen as a fair tradeoff, or not even a tradeoff at all. For others, it’s a decision that makes sense at 20, 25, or 30, but as 35 creeps around the corner shows itself to be a double-edged sword. The woman in the locker room had done everything ‘right’. She’d gotten her degree, focused on her career, put herself in a financial situation where she could provide for a child, but in doing so inadvertently backed herself into a timeline that gives her only a narrow window to have kids before the opportunity is gone.
I’ve never considered not having children. Whether I can carry them myself, choose to adopt, or both, I’m an innately maternal person. So the “childless by choice” stance, while fascinating to me, is not a route that I see myself taking. However, I most definitely understand the stress women are feeling as they are pulled between building a great career and building a family. Too much in either direction, and you are a workaholic or a homebody. It feels, quite often, like there is no way to win.
Writing is motherf–king hard. It seems really simple. You sit down somewhere, anywhere really, pick up a pencil or open your computer, and write words. Those words, because they’re yours, are automatically meaningful and good as they are an extension of you.
In reality, writing is more like an exercise in self-flagellation. It’s like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when monks alternate between chanting in Latin and smacking themselves on the head with a book. Sometimes words, like faith, just flow. You don’t have to think too hard. They fall out of your fingertips and arrange themselves on the page in a way that makes sense and is pleasing and in that moment you feel very accomplished.
When you write a lot, that experience becomes more and more rare. You find yourself chasing those moments of ease with hours of smacking yourself in the head with a book you wish you had the self-discipline to write. You comb websites that you will tell anyone are trash for inspiration, searching for anything that will lubricate your wheels and make the words come out more easily.
You beg your friends, parents, and dog to tell you what to write. To give you something, anything, so that you don’t have to keep searching for a subject, and then you realize that it’s only when things are this hard that you are actually proud of what you produce. When the words come easy they stick to your skin. The piece itself might be great. It might be one the best things you’ve ever written. It could go viral, or be on the front page of your favorite publication, or win an award but you know that you didn’t work for it. You didn’t earn it. It’s like when you won the 50-meter breaststroke by doing doggy paddle because no one else was racing. Sure, you got the blue ribbon and anyone who wasn’t there will be impressed but it will always feel cheap.
Those words you work for, the words you fight with, they stick to your stomach, your kidneys, and your liver. They go deep into you, digging in their heels as you try to pull them out. Even when you wrench them free and stick them to the page a permanent residue is left where they once were. Those are the words of which you are proud. They might not be pretty but they are your everything because the words that you work for are the words that prove to you that you are a writer.
If writing was always easy and if the words always came, everyone would be a writer.
But publishing a piece to Medium a few times a year when the words “come to you” doesn’t make you a writer just like being in one commercial as a baby doesn’t qualify you to call yourself an actress for the rest of your life. Being a writer is the willingness to smack yourself on the head with a book until the words come out. It’s the foolishness to enter the ring with no certainty of a win and take body shots hoping that something good will come of it. It’s painful and it’s messy and it’s beautiful.
Not everything I write is good and not everything I write comes easily. It is because of that, not in spite of it, that I am a writer.
I’m your dream girl. When you look at my online dating profile, stalk my Instagram, or read my blog you memorize me. You see my family pictures, read about my dating life, and know my stances on even the most trivial issues. After a while, you email me. You say that you enjoy my blog and would love my advice on a project you’re working on. We schedule a call. I put it in to my calendar as a meeting.
We start by talking about work. You tell me about how unhappy you are at your job and how you’re starting a company on the side. That your family doesn’t understand your need to go off on your own even if it isn’t as financially rewarding. I listen and nod even though you can’t see me.
The next day you friend me on Facebook and message me that you really enjoyed our conversation. You start liking my photos and text me a few times a week. You tell me that I’m “unreal,” “perfect,” your “dream girl.” The distance, you say, is nothing and someday soon you’ll come to visit and we’ll spend hours talking about world issues and politics and eat amazing food.
I enjoy our conversations, but I know that they aren’t going to go anywhere. You? You’re looking for something. Looking for the perfect girl and you think you found her. She’s smart, bold, opinionated, and sexy. The problem is, she’s not real.
And deep down, you know that. It’s why you say you’ll visit but you never do.
After a while I’ll stop answering your texts right away, a few weeks after that I’ll stop answering altogether. When you ask for an explanation I’ll say that I’m busy. I’m not. I’m sitting on my couch with my dog eating chips and salsa. While you send me ‘sexy’ photos of your abs, I’m trying to get a date for Friday night with a real human man who actually lives in the same city as me.
You see, I’m not that girl. The girl you stalk online is a construct created out of perfected pieces of writing, triple-filtered photos, and tweets that I re-read 10 times checking for spelling mistakes. For every thing I post, 10 potential posts are trashed for being not good enough, not pretty enough, or not witty enough.
Who am I? I wear sports bras as often, if not more often, than the cute lacey things I bought to try and make myself feel like an adult. I watch way too much crappy television and when I say “When I was little I ate ice cream for breakfast” I mean that that’s what I had this morning. Sometimes I pretend to be a dinosaur in public and when my mom annoys me I walk really close to her and bark like a dog so she’s both embarrassed and can’t pretend that I’m not her daughter.
I compulsively bite people on the shoulder and call them love nips.
I eat half of a cake, throw the rest out, and then take it out of the trash and continue to eat it like nothing happened.
So, I’m not your dream girl, but I’m ok with that. I think that I’m pretty awesome.
I was transparent. Unless someone wanted a wine refill or had a special request for food I didn’t exist. I was the queen of my empire, the 10 square feet stretching from the stove to the kitchen sink, but beyond that invisible boundary I was just the ‘help.’ What most of the event attendees didn’t know, was that the ‘dope’ apartment they were in and kept commenting on, is actually my home.
It’s no secret that I have a love affair with food. It has led me to work in kitchens, write a food blog, and occasionally cater events as a favor to friends. This particular event was for a young philanthropists network that I am a part of. They needed a space and food, and we (my roommates and I) were glad to help out. So, instead of attending as a guest, I threw on an apron and started cooking. As people began to fill the space they mingled, picked up drinks, and munched on hors d’oeuvres. I didn’t expect them to chat with me as I was clearly busy, but it wasn’t until someone asked who had hired me that I realized how set apart I was. There were the events attendees and the events staff and I was clearly the staff.
You can learn a lot about someone by how they treat those that are serving them. Bartenders, waitresses, and baristas, all interface with thousands of people, many customers are kind but others are curt, cold, and straight up rude. There were people at this event who I’d been told were amazing, are leading young philanthropists, and that we would be great friends. I was astonished when those same people were often the rudest. Pushing past me in the kitchen to get to the sink or blatantly ignoring my attempts to refill a platter. I was the staff, and they were the guests, I did not matter.
It was funny when, about three-quarters of the way through, the events organizer made an announcement thanking me for the food. Within minutes a professor from a well-known college who teaches my writing to his students came up to introduce himself, a young woman who’d heard about me through a mutual friend gave me a big hug, and one of those men who’d shoved past me on the way to the sink asked for my business card. I was no longer transparent; I had a name and a value beyond crostini’s and mini cupcakes. I was human again.
New Yorkers, it seems, put a huge amount of value in what a person does for work. I include myself in this; I am guilty of asking someone what he or she does before almost any other question. A persons worth in a given scenario is then classified in a pyramid structure where those in service industries form the base. At the peak are the financially wealthy, the elite of NYC. As long as I was a chef, a service provider there to make their lives easier, I was at the base. When people learned that the sick apartment is my home, that I work in tech and that I’m a writer, I started to move up. I hadn’t changed at all. I was still behind the stove, spatula in hand, but all of a sudden I was generous to be cooking rather than just doing my job. The very activities that had doomed me to invisibility now made me a bastion of all that the young philanthropists society stood for.
And those people, the people I’d been told I just had to meet? I realized that I could never be friends with them. If they treated all the waiters, cooks, baristas, etc. the way that they had approached me, they weren’t good people. They might give away millions, but the ability to part with wealth doesn’t make you caring or kind. Starting a company or being a big shot doesn’t give you permission to treat other people poorly.
Be aware of how you treat people. Your favorite blogger might just be the woman refilling your wine glass.
I’ve read our Bill of Rights and I know what it says. There’s this line that’s causing a whole lot of hullaballoo for a mere 27 words. Supposedly, it says that American citizens have the right to own and use guns. The exact wording is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” but hey, I’m told ‘arms’ means guns, and not my biceps.
What baffles me is that our highly educated democratically elected officials, who are supposed to be pretty darn bright, are having trouble contextualizing those 27 words in today’s reality.
Back in 1791 when the second amendment was ratified the behemoth of a military that we have know was unimaginable. There was no effective justice system in much of the United States, and very little way for a person to protect herself without taking it into her own hands. So having a gun was pretty normal. You could shoot dinner and defend your home. Makes sense.
Problem is, it’s no longer 1791. We are lucky enough to have a pretty good military and justice system. The police and fire department response time to my apartment is less than a minute. That’s pretty awesome. So why are we still acting as if the reasons for us to have guns in the 18th century still hold true?
Hunting? I get it. Go shoot a deer. Target practice? Ok, but there’s no need for semi-automatics on the range. Self-defense? I really don’t see the purpose.
The most obvious reason to need a gun for self-defense would be to defend you from another person with a gun. Without guns you might still get in a fight, get a little bit bloody, and end up in the hospital. But guess what wouldn’t happen?
- Your kid wouldn’t go on a mass rampage at school.
- Your nephew wouldn’t shoot himself by mistake.
- You would have to think before attacking someone who you think might be a threat.
And yet, the USA has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world with 88 of every 100 people owning a firearm. Gun violence is an epidemic. There have been 62 mass shootings in the USA from 1982 to 2012. As Obama has said, the USA does not have a monopoly on crazy; we do not have a monopoly on stupid either. So other than the presence of guns, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for these events to be so common in the USA.
After each shooting there comes an outcry. It’s a pattern: shooting, press field day focused almost solely on the shooter, public outrage, politicians make promises, nothing happens. This repeats, over and over, month after month. School shootings have become so common that a company has released a bullet-proof naptime ‘blanket’ kids can use to cover themselves.
At this pace, it’s only a matter of time until the most gun-friendly NRA members and hardcore conservative politicians are affected by the shooting epidemic. I hate to think that it might take them losing a relative, friend, or neighbor to step-up and realize that our archaic laws need to be overhauled.
Friday, June 6th was National Donut Day. I did not know this when I clipped a coupon for six donuts for $2.99 from the coupon circular. I did not know this when I stashed the coupon in my wallet for safe keeping, and I definitely did not know this when, on June 6th, I walked into Dunkin’ Donuts in Bridgehampton, NY and picked up two glazed, one chocolate glazed, one Boston cream, one chocolate cream, one strawberry frosted, and one chocolate frosted donut for the grand total of $2.99.
Despite my ignorance, I celebrated National Donut Day on the beach eating more than half of the six donuts. It was a great afternoon.
On the same day as National Donut Day, June 6th, the Huffington Post published an article about an Instagram account that “pulls images of models, bloggers and actresses posing with food, and shames them for pretending to eat things that they supposedly would never actually put in their mouths.”
I find the idea of this anonymous Instagram user policing food pics hugely disturbing. Women and girls have it hard enough without having what they eat cut apart by thousands of people online. Maybe some of these pictures were staged, and maybe there are moral implications to purporting to consume a food that you didn’t actually eat. But why do we care? Is making some women feel bad about what they are eating, or not eating, going to create anything positive?
Imagine if the hashtag was #WeCanTellYouAteThat, if instead of posting pictures of skinny models with cupcakes the account posted pictures of normal, beautiful, amazing women eating the same foods. How would people be reacting then? Rather than joining in the fun, I hypothesize that the same users who are commenting on and liking photos now, would decry the account as everything wrong with the way we view and treat women’s bodies.
Now, I really hope that no one ever creates that Instagram account because no woman, no human, deserves to be picked apart for who they are, what they eat, or how they are shaped. Places like YouDidNotEatThat serve as forums for hate and negativity where thousands of anonymous users descend like flies. If we don’t create these forums, they won’t have a place to land. Rather than dealing with insecurity, or perhaps just boredom, by shaming other people, they’ll be challenged to face their demons in hopefully more productive and healing ways.
Flipping the coin and thinking about what the opposite, a WeCanTellYouAteThat account, would look like has it’s utility. If one angle disgusts us, why shouldn’t the other? If you become enraged or upset by the idea of being judged for any aspect of who you are, there is no reason for you to be ok with someone else being treated the same way even if they, in this case primarily thin women, are placed in a position of privilege in our culture.
By shaming anyone we are digging our collective hole deeper and deeper. Calling someone out, no matter their shape, isn’t furthering the body acceptance or broader feminist movements. It’s a vicious cycle, a staling pattern, that keeps us from moving forward.
So, is any body more worthy of defense or criticism than any other one? I sure hope not.
I saw a headline the other day for an article that read, “You don’t pick the person you love. You pick the time you love them.” Love doesn’t come easily or simply, and it doesn’t look at your calendar to see if you have time for it. It pops up unexpectedly and suddenly you are faced with the challenge of making space for it. You may choose to fight for it, or you might not realize it was even there until it’s slipped away.
This is something I’ve been struggling a lot with lately. I like plans and schedules. I used to send an ex-boyfriend agendas before we went to events together with his tux rental info, time to leave to pick me up, time to get to the event with 15 minutes built in for buffer because I assumed he’d be late, and a list of reminders that he probably didn’t need but made me feel better. I even used to go to class 20 minutes early just in case it somehow changed in time overnight with no warning. I’d love to be able to pick the time to love somebody; it’d play into my sick obsession with timeliness.
The thing is, you can’t show up early for love and if you’re late, you know pretty quickly. There is no start time or curtain call. The only way to really know if you are on time is to catch it right in the moment. Otherwise it vaporizes into thin air, slipping through your fingers like the smoke rising from a candle you’ve just blown out.
There are lots of resources out there for finding love. Magazines, websites, blogs, even my own ramblings, have no problem dishing out advice on dating and landing a partner. Problem is, they mostly look at love just like the headline I spotted did.
You don’t pick the person you love. You pick the time you love them.”
When really it should read: “You can try to pick the person you love. You can’t pick if they love you back.”
Too often we look at love as a one-way transaction. I’m smart, successful, have a sense of humor, and clean up well. Who wouldn’t want to be with me? We approach dating with this self-centered mindset, and sometimes it works. Sometimes you strike gold and find that perfect person who you are smitten with and they happen to not be able to get enough of you.
Problem is, when you focus only on you, you miss the entire other half of the equation.
You can primp, pamper, groom, and gild yourself into princess perfection but that doesn’t guarantee anything. You can read every dating how-to and avoid every unsexy food on the menu and still not find what you’re looking for. Which, to be honest, is scary. It’s nice to think that if things aren’t working out you must have forgotten to check a box. When you accept that your perfectly executed checklist isn’t a guarantee of success, you relinquish control over one of our most ingrained human desires – companionship.
So sure, you might not be able to pick whom you love or when you love them, but we need to get past that. We need to accept that even more than your lack of control over whom you love, you have very little say in who loves you, and hopefully you’ll be on time to love them back.
On May 21, 2014, Newsweek funneled years of speculation and doubt into a single piece that, once and for all, brought the legendary Somaly Mam into the spotlight for a type of fraud that has become the Achilles heal of the non-profit world. Following the narratives of Greg Mortenson, Lance Armstrong, and countless others, Somaly Mam’s story has begun to unravel. Former classmates remember her graduating high school, a time when she claims to have been a sex slave. Anonymous employees state that behind closed doors she can be cruel and tyrannical, a far cry from the saintly woman who has sat down with leaders ranging from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to the Pope. It has even come to light that the girls who have served as the face of her organization were coached to share heart wrenching but fabricated stories to attract more donor dollars.
What isn’t being brought into question is the work of her organization, the Somaly Mam Foundation. That might be a battle for another time, but it’s evident that she has created some good. She has brought attention to a horrible problem (sex trafficking), created a safer space for women in her native country, and continues to fight for women’s rights to healthcare, safety, and equal opportunity. Her organization might not be perfect, but it does exist, and (arguably) it does do good work.
So what do we do now?
When critics discovered that Greg Mortenson, Author of “Three Cups of Tea” and Founder of the Central Asia Institute, had mishandled donor money, embellished an already unlikely story, and mislead thousands of school children through the educational non-profit Pennies for Peace, Mortenson was brought to trial both in the headlines and in court. His story was discredited; his work declared a farce, and three years later the organization that had to separate itself from him for any hopes of survival is still on its knees. However, he still built more schools than I probably ever will.
Just as professional athletes take steroids, it seems as if embellishing or even fabricating stories has become the stimulant of choice for non-profit leaders looking to gain a competitive edge. There is a push to show that you’ve been challenged, and overcome more than anyone else; that you are a shining example of humanity. The pressure to live up to this ideal is, ironically, incentivizing falsehoods. As non-profits scramble for donor dollars, often up against similar yet competing organizations, there is a tendency to exaggerate numbers, share what you hope to be doing next as if you were doing it now, and overall stretch the truth. Since a touching personal narrative is more likely to attract big donors, non-profits seem to be willing to make one up with the belief that it is a victimless crime with an undeniably beneficial outcome.
Reading about Somaly Mam I very quickly became angry, frustrated that a women who is a role model for so many could be, in part, a work of fiction. The bigger problem, however, is that I know on some level where she is coming from and what she is facing. In interviews I have found myself saying the number that I wish was true, rather than the one that is. In conversations I catch myself using the easy (and partially true) explanation rather than the real one. In short, I empathize with the idea that to achieve more impact, those in the non-profit sector sometimes exaggerate without taking into consideration the moral ramifications of doing so.
I don’t mean to lie. As a writer I look for the most compelling way to tell my story, and that of Campamento Esperanza Y Alegria, to raise awareness and galvanize action. To this end, for years I said that I helped found the camp, which is technically, true…in its current incarnation. The camp had existed in a more informal state for three years prior to my family and me getting on board. Over time my discomfort with that claim of founder’s status grew to the point at which I was angry with myself after interviews. I knew that while what I was saying was the simple and easy-to-publish explanation, it wasn’t accounting for the many Dominicans that put in years of work to lay the foundation for what I was just a piece in helping to build.
I have changed my phrasing now to be “I help to organize” and try to use every opportunity to turn the spotlight on the Dominicans who do the real work, but still catch myself every now and then slipping into my old habit. Becoming aware was the first step; speaking with intention and precision is the next.
It’s harder than you’d think to keep numbers straight. For years we said that it cost $500 for a kid to go to camp, only correcting ourselves two years ago with a revised $350. I routinely round the number of campers up to 100 over our two one-week sessions, while in actuality the number fluctuates between 80 and 90.
I don’t edit stories or embellish numbers in bad faith, or because I want more attention. As I’d like to believe is true of Somaly Mam, I am so focused on the desired outcome of my work that sometimes the details get lost in the process. Sometimes I am so worked up and enthusiastic that I exaggerate without realizing it until much later. I don’t mean to lie, but I can’t honestly say that I always tell the perfect and unequivocal truth.
To be fair, I also don’t coach girls to tell false stories to sell seats to my (non-existent) fundraising galas. There is a clear and definitive line I refuse to cross, a line that Greg Mortenson and Somaly Mam seem not to have noticed.
But what does it mean when those who are held up as purveyors of all things good in this world are also liars? How did you explain to your kids that their favorite baseball player was on steroids? How do you tell your friends that their non-profit idols have gained an unfair advantage through some creative story telling?
Most of all, does it matter? Should Somaly Mam lose everything she’s built because of what she’s done, or do the ends justify the means?
I wish that I had answers. I also wish that telling the truth all of the time was easy. Politicians make up marathon times, celebrities lie about weight loss methods, and we all add a few inches to our height. Turns out, we all embellish and exaggerate on a daily basis, swearing to ourselves that we won’t cross that line.
Update 5/28/14: “Prominent anti-sex-trafficking activist Somaly Mam has announced her resignation from the Somaly Mam Foundation just days after a Newsweek cover story exposed extensive fabrications in her backstory.” (http://www.newsweek.com/sex-trafficking-activist-somaly-mam-steps-down-following-newsweek-cover-story-252603)
This was supposed to be my graduation year. Had I gone to college straight from high school, I would have most likely walked across a stage last week and received my diploma. But I didn’t go straight to college. I took a gap year, spent a year at Lewis & Clark, joined a start up, transferred to Barnard, and then, after a total of four semesters plus some summer classes, withdrew as a student.
My path has been crooked and it is with great interest that I watch my high school classmates who took a more direct route enter the ‘real’ world. This year the majority of my high school classmates graduated from college. Most of those who are graduating have already walked across elevated stages, applauded by friends and family, and been handed a diploma. Many graduated with honors and somewhere even speakers. They’ve plastered their social media accounts with pictures of them in their caps and gowns, had graduation parties, and moved out of their dorms. It’s all very exciting, but it’s also bittersweet.
The Class of 2014 has made history as “the most indebted class ever.” The average loan-holding 2014 college graduate will have to pay back $33,000, nearly double the amount students were facing 20 years ago even after adjusting for inflation. On top of this, over 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients hold loans.
While a college diploma is still in many fields considered a prerequisite to get even an entry-level position, it is no longer the guarantee of employment it once was. Students vie not only for jobs, but also for internships with the hopes of a job materializing after months, if not years, of hard work and little to no pay. When graduates do become employed, they must face the fact that while the average student load debt has risen 35% (from 2005-2012), the median salary has dropped 2.2%, and their prospects of paying off their loans in a timely manner are slim to none.
My high school classmates, both loan-holding and otherwise, are walking off of that stage into a fiscal quagmire that seriously brings into question the value of the diploma they spent upwards of $200,000 earning. $1000 on a semesters worth of books makes sense when the payoff, a high-paying job with upward mobility, is a unspoken guarantee. However, when there are no promises, when your school isn’t motivated to find you employment, when companies are doing the opposite of hiring, and when you are taking on debt in the form of student loans, credit cards, etc., the benefits of that gilded piece of paper start to fall away.
College is still, for many, an important institution. It provides us opportunities for growth as both a student and a human, but it’s also a little bit of a holding tank. Taking kids in at 17/18, letting them grow or just keeping them occupied, and then releasing them back out into the world four years later. This role, the role of holding tank, is unfortunately embraced by colleges, most of which and especially those held in the highest regard, rarely take a moment to step back and conduct a critical analysis of whether what they are teaching is actually turning out graduates who are prepared for today’s harsh realities.
Our schools, many hundreds of years old, rely by-and-large on curriculums that are also hundreds of years old. Liberal arts colleges, which make up the majority of Ivy Leagues and top tier universities, purport to prepare students for long and successful careers, but don’t event consider the fact that what was needed to be successful when Abraham Lincoln was in office does not necessarily still hold the same value it once did.
I want to congratulate my friends. I want to believe that if they haven’t found a job yet they will soon. I want to agree with them that the unpaid internship at a community theater in Seattle will launch their directing career, but I can’t. With tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, high living expenses, low salaries, and a sour job market, I can’t lie to my friends and tell them that it was all worth it because I’m not sure if it was.
Chances are that I will eventually go back to school, not because I want a degree, but because I love learning and actually enjoy class. I’ll probably major in anthropology or writing, take a ridiculously long time to earn the right to walk across that stage, and pose for dozens of cheesy photos in my cap and gown all around NYC. College still, for all its problems, holds a lot of worth. Whether as a holding tank or a place of higher learning, it serves a purpose that I can’t wholly rule out.
However, College’s place isn’t permanent and, as student debt continues to rise along with tuitions, it will need to innovate and evolve to fit the changing landscape. It might be hard to take down a 800 year old behemoth, but even Goliath had David.