Browsing Tag


Now What? Reflections on College Graduation

Our oldest son, Nick, graduated last weekend from University of Puget Sound. I had the chance to hear many students speak on stage at the various award ceremonies and the interfaith service, as well as talk informally at department receptions and parties. I thought it might be worth writing a post before I disappear for much of the summer. The press is full of transcripts and videos every May/June of all kinds of famous, high-achieving people giving inspirational commencement talks. And while I agree with the calls to greatness, the reminders of the problems our society faces that await new eyes and minds, and the warnings that life will be full of challenges, I think some more basic advice on the job hunt and settling into a new place might be useful for new graduates and their families.

You’ve finished college. Not everyone does.

You may have some lifelong friends. Not everyone does.

You may have a job lined up or a graduate school program to start. Not everyone does.

Everyone does move forward from this point and make a life. You will, too. (Be brave.) Continue Reading

Reading: How College Works

Dan Chambliss and Christopher Takacs followed over 100 students over eight years at Hamilton College to see what works and what doesn’t. They show the reader how college works and see beyond the four years, with frequent commentary from alumni looking back at their college years and with insight into what choices paid off and what opportunities they missed. While they are researchers writing for an academic audience, and the book is a little dry, with more information about background methods than the lay reader wants, the core is a very reliable, persuasive guide to what needs to happen for a successful college experience (and if college isn’t successful, you’re unlikely to have a successful post-college launch, right?)

Interestingly, students don’t need to find a large group of great people—they need just a few—and those can come from nearly anywhere on campus. But those friends are crucial to success on all levels. And, although probably true all through life, it’s interesting to consider that friendships within one group may preclude  friendships with other groups—whether due to time constraints or clannishness.

Continue Reading

Reading: The Secret History

One of my all-time favorite books, Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, was first published in 1992. When I read the book I was just about the same age as the narrator, Richard Papen, and the same number of years out of college. Written before the tech boom of the 1990s, the book captures the last years where to be a “Californian by birth, and also, I have recently discovered, by nature” meant something like the version of Fitzgerald’s Hollywood Richard gives to his professor, Julian, “Orange groves, failed movie stars, lamplit cocktail hours by the swimming pool, cigarettes, ennui.” (The brief references at the start to the casual process of college admissions will seem incomprehensible to today’s students, but recognizable to parents.)

In re-reading it now, it’s easy to be struck by the absence of mobile phones, laptops, blogs, tweets, and posts. The key characters, college students immersed in studying the classics at a small Vermont college, would eschew all that anyway, so even the pay phone references still work. Even now, people are sometimes hard to reach. We did have movies and TV then and there’s no reference to that either.

The story’s narrator reminds me of Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby: He is both a witness and a participant and suffers from Nick’s socioeconomic insecurities and has perhaps fallen in with a bad crowd, at the very least, like Tom & Daisy, they are “careless people.”

Turns out I still love this book for college students and new grads. It’s a great depiction of the way I think everyone feels when they first start college. (500-student Hamden College is a ringer for Bennington, where Donna Tartt went to college.) You’re not quite sure of the rules, the groups, the alliances, and while you’re trying to sort that out, everyone is passing judgement on you as they assess their options. (A lot like a new job, too.) There’s a chance to figure out who you want to be, and a chance to pretend to be whatever it is you want to be. This is probably less true for students who stay close to home for college. (How different can UC Irvine’s culture be for a San Diego native?) But for students who go farther afield, the sense of culture shock is all the more shocking today, when the internet has done so much to publicize all the little nuances of subcultures. As Richard’s relationship with his fellow Classics students warms up he notes, “Months after I got to know the five of them, I found to my surprise that at the start they’d been nearly as bewildered by me as I by them.”

The book riffs on so many things you will encounter in college (or already have in AP English), that it’s pretty irresistible. Greek myths and culture, American regional differences, the outsider narrator, the concept of fate, and a dozen different classic novels and writers (starting with Gatsby, for me).

Reading it as the parent of college students, this time I was stunned to realize that there was a whole theme I’d missed the first time out reading it as a young adult. Not even one single character has a good parent. As in so much fiction, there are an inordinate amount of dead parents, but those who remain are universally incompetent, drunk, or cruel. And Julian, their charismatic professor and father-figure, is not at all impressive to adult eyes. He’s ultimately as shallow and absentee as the rest of the living parents.

Recommendation? I still love this book. With both sons’ campuses tree-heavy (one with its own forest), small liberal arts schools, one a Humanities minor and the other a Philosophy major (including a class this semester with just three students), and with a number of professor-mentors with whom they are on a first-name basis, I can see pieces of so many real students and the truth of the college experience in this book. It’s a great story, a mystery in reverse—we know who has been murdered and pretty much by whom, but the novel spins out to tell us why. And with the classics theme, the answer may well be that it was always fated to end as it did. I highly recommend to anyone reading Launch Like A Rocket, something none of Tartt’s students are ever going to do, but something her narrator very much wants as he jumps from the frying pan into the fire.


Organizing Overview: Money, People, Time

In this world no one rules by love; if you are but amiable, you are no hero;
to be powerful, you must be strong, and to have dominion
you must have a genius for organizing.
—Cardinal Newman

Bringing order to chaos (aka herding cats) is something you’ve been working on all through high school. If you hadn’t been good at it, likely you wouldn’t be in college right now. And if you’re working your way through school, you already know even more about this one. It’s hard to get control of all the variables in your life. In the working world you’ll need to get your variables and a lot of other people’s to synchronize in order to get things done.

College shelters you a bit from creating time management from scratch—you don’t have to propose meeting times for your classes, locate the various required books and materials from multiple sources,* or find a place to meet and a way to pay the professor. But you’re picking classes that combine into a set of major/minor and general graduation requirements as well as addressing your intellectual curiosity for new subjects. Each semester’s picks fit into the reality that you can only be in one place at one time, prerequisites completion, and physical constraints (you need a enough time to make it from one end of campus to another—even in snow or 105-degree heat) and trying to wrap it all up on the desired four-year schedule. This isn’t something that specifically goes on a resume (although I do see “graduated in three years” noted from time to time and I get the subtext, although perhaps only because I graduated early, too.). Be aware of the skills you’re building—and make sure you are working on these. As college progresses shove your parents out of the process, involve your advisors for advice and as sounding boards, but don’t look to them to move in as replacement helicopter parents. Parents: Start pushing your student to take control. By senior year you shouldn’t be managing anything. Even if you’re underwriting college, you shouldn’t even be making plane reservations. No one in the office will be doing this for your student—they have to learn now, even if they are “too busy.” Move them in freshman year, but unless you’re close and they have no other options don”t move them out or back in. they need to navigate these basic things on their own. Time management, both in the sort- and long-term, is a skill you’ve got to get down.

Build on those time skills, and start organizing other people. Continue Reading

Reading: How to Raise an Adult

With a subtitle of Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, Julie Lythcott-Haims is focused on a parent audience, but she covers some ground that’s worthy of discussion in the Launch context. As a former Stanford University dean of freshmen she’s reporting from the front lines after a decade of watching very bright, academically successful students flail at life away from home.

In a chapter entitled We’re Hurting Their Job Prospects, she talks about how this mollycoddling plays out after graduation, quoting Teach for America’s general counsel:

“If you tell them to do A, B, C, and D, they are excellent at doing it, and they’re hardworking and dedicated as they do it. But if you say ‘Look,
we’re trying to get to D. We’re going to show you A and give you half of C. Go Innovate, solve it for yourself, ’ they really struggle. Their mind-set
is, ‘Tell me what the path is and I’ll follow it, even if it’s really hard. But strike out on my own and figure it out? That I can’t do.’”

I can second that experience. We’re a small studio and there just wasn’t time to provide the hands-on attention aspiring graphic designers and film editors needed to be productive. Internships would devolve into the use of a workstation and access to our subscription. So we stopped having interns. Continue Reading