So, what now? What to do after graduation Finding yourself and your “Rushmore”

By Nick Dilonardo

In Wes Anderson’s film “Rushmore,” the playwriting underdog protagonist is approached by a Scotch drinking, cigarette smoking and divorced Herman Blume (played by Bill Murray) as Fisher serves as his academy’s traffic monitor. Noting Fisher’s indelible smile, Blume asks him a question:

“What’s the secret?” Blume asks. “You look like you’ve got it all figured out.”

To which, Max Fisher responds quite simply.

“I don’t know,” Fisher says. “I think you just gotta find something you love to do, then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.”

As spring begins, as seniors prepare to graduate and as the rest of us upperclassmen begin to think of stepping into what Tom Petty termed “The Great Wide Open,” we are faced with a critical question. Yes, we’ve spent at least four, perhaps even five years at a university. We’ve earned a degree. And, like the final scene of the Graduate, as Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross stare into the camera from the back of the bus, the question begged is this: “So, what now?”

What do we do with the degree we’ve presumably earned? Do we know? Have we known all along? And if so, what brought us to that decision?

We’ve already faced this once as current upperclassmen. As freshmen or sophomores, we were forced at some point to declare a major. That decision is one in a series that inevitably close other doors – as every decision we make closes off other options – was one step in a direction. Whether it was the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ first step is up for debate, and up to us to find out over the next twenty something years. But we had to make a choice. So, how did we do it?

When faced with the choice of which major to pick, how does one begin? There are plenty of lists online, like CNBC’s list of “America’s Highest Paying Jobs 2012” which includes occupations like air traffic controller ($114,460 per year average) or the blandly named job ‘sales managers’ ($116,860). But even already, there is an ethical dilemma: Do we pick a job based on its pay? Should we pick a major predicated upon its expected monetary return?

While every person’s position is different, and while there is a story behind every face, here, at USD, many of us don’t know exactly what it means to starve. I could be wrong. Last week, we had a former USD professor by the name of Ron Bonn give a lecture on journalistic standards to those of us in the news room. On the issue of citation or attribution, he said that anything you might say that isn’t universally accepted requires some form of support, at least in a well written news piece. Opinion is a bit different. But let me say this: Does anyone disagree when I say that our school is a sheltered place?

It is certainly an expensive one, to which $6.75 hummus wraps and over $3 dollar orange juice can attest. Not all of us were born with silver spoons in our mouths. Some of us were. And if we were, it is certainly a blessing.

My father worked a job his entire life that he hated. So did my mother. So do many of our parents. My father slaved in a company of idiots to perform a task for which he was overqualified. He didn’t like it, but he did it anyway, because all of a sudden twenty three years ago, he had a kid, and he needed to feed him.

Now, as I consider my own career options from a position altogether different from that of my father, I can’t help but feel like I owe it to him to pick a job I can actually stand. Isn’t that what we owe to those who came before us, whether it’s our great-grandparents or even our dad? For those who suffered and endured lives with the hopes of better ones for their children, don’t we owe it to them to enjoy the choices they themselves did not have?

I’ve long entertained passing thoughts of going to law school. Before beginning USD as a transfer student, the idea of being able to handle that much reading overwhelmed me. After being an English major for several years, and taking courses under professors like David Cantrell, Atreyee Phukan and Fred Robinson among others, I feel like I could handle it, if I put in the effort. I come from a family of lawyers and I know what it takes. I also know what it takes out of you. I’d certainly make money. But would I be ‘happy’? Does that even matter?

It’s really easy to say you want to pursue a job for the love of it when you’re eating Chipotle four times a week on daddy’s budget. It’s easy to say you want to dedicate your life to helping the poor instead of pursuing financial success when you yourself have never suffered. There are a lot of kids from back in high school who held these lofty ambitions. Then, they graduated and eventually, they had student debt to pay.

As it stands now, I am thinking of graduate school for English, rhetoric or journalism. Before I can decide anything, I think I need to find my “Rushmore.” When I was thinking of picking a major, I took my own advice, that which I gave to my little sister as she was experimenting and trying out for different sports in high school.

“Find a sport that you enjoy practicing,” I said. “If practice is a pleasure, you’ll have fun. I learned this the hard way from playing football.”

There are many of us who will have to take jobs we don’t like in order to make ends meet. At some point, we can take less money for a job we’d prefer, cut back on having cable, maybe not get that new 3 series, and do our best impression of Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson,” sans the drug addiction. The point is, we can choose to fight the ‘good fight’ with less cash in our pockets, or we can sell our sanity in the name of financial security.

If there is anything for which I can be somewhat proud of here at USD, it’s our attempt to inspire students to affect change through socially oriented entrepreneurship. I am no communist: I’m not interested in sharing things communally, nor running a business without a profit. But at the same time, there’s a better way to make money than to have making money be the single goal. It’s the new and hip thing: It’s Starbuck’s ‘Ethos’ water or its ‘Flex’ watches; they donate some percent of their proceeds to charity, in an appeal to your sympathy and your wallet.

Even if it is a bit cheesy, it does at least make some difference. But are we obligated to make a difference? According to Catholic liberation theology, we are. From that perspective, to the extent to which our brother or sister suffers and we are able to address it, we are morally obligated. I tend to agree. I’m not a Christian, nor do I profess to believe in “loving thy neighbor.” But certainly, when I consider the vast and increasing economic inequality in this country, I do tend to consider the poor. The Occupy Wall Street movement brought this to the forefront in the autumn of 2011. In an article from Mother Jones, the same outlet that scored the infamous ‘47 percent’ scoop on Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, the staggering level of that inequality is revealed.

The richest 10 percent control two-thirds of American’s net worth. Their average income is $161,139. It’s a paltry sum, compared to the level at which President Obama proposed increasing taxes, which was for $250,000 a year and up. At just over $150,000 a year, this top 10 percent would include many professionals, lawyers, doctors, accountants and other alumni of post-graduate schools.

This would include many of our parents here at USD, who are by no means necessarily the gaudy stereotype that comes to mind when we think of the word upper-class. But here’s where it gets interesting. What do you think is the difference between the top 10 percent and the top 1 percent? Try about $2.7 million. According to 2010 data sourced from the University of Calif., Berkeley, the top .01-.1 percent earn $2,802,020 a year on average. Within the top .01 percent, that per year average soars to $23,846,950. The bottom 90 percent, or nine out of ten of the rest of us, on average, make $29,840. That includes a lot of teachers.

Plato has a great point about competing interests. His fundamental question “in whose interest does it lie?” inspires me to continually consider the power of perspectives. And speaking of interest, do you know who the top ten richest members of congress are and how much they make? Take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as an example. His estimated net worth is $451.1 million. Close behind is Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif) worth nearly $435.4 million. It may not surprise you, but all ten of the richest members of Congress voted to extend the Bush Tax Cuts. Why wouldn’t they? It’s in their interest.
But in whose interest is feeding the poor? It’s certainly in theirs. If we are Christians and Catholics, it’s certainly in ours. And as we get ready to make the decision as to what career we will pursue, do we owe it to ourselves, to them and to our country to consider those brothers and sisters of ours who suffer? Do we owe anything to anyone at all? To echo the theme of the 2012 Republican convention, I mean, “we built it,” right?

Or maybe we had help along the way. Or maybe some people suffered in order for us to get there. Maybe we owe something to family, to our friends, and to our sisters and brothers from other mothers.
Whether it’s Adam and Eve, or the prehistoric early human by the name of Lucy to whom all of us share relation, we are, happy or not, one big human family. Our country is our most direct embodiment of this. John F. Kennedy once asked us to consider “not what our country can do for us” but “what can we do for our country.” In the 1980s, when “greed” was “good,” that may have been laughed at. Before 9/11, owing anything to our country may have seemed a bit strange, before the reality of our inner-connectedness was brought to the forefront, eliciting American flags, suddenly stuck upon every lawn and over every door step.

As we consider during the ongoing battle over the Sequester as to which direction our nation might step when considering the role of government, I think it might be appropriate to ask, whatever our politics, to what extent we owe anything to others. We might not. But I think we at least owe it to ourselves to find our Rushmore. Nobody wants parents who come home hating their jobs and complaining. Some people don’t have a choice. But for those of us who do – what’s it going to be?