Jewish World Review May 29, 2014 / 29 Iyar, 5774
One year after that college graduation speech, a degree of reality
By Chris Erskine
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | As dynasties go, my family takes its cues mostly from the Habsburgs, whose empire was based on superior fecundity and well-placed bribes. I remind my kids of this every day, as I treat them to yet another grand breakfast.
Mostly, they just ignore me.
So, we're in the kitchen the other morning, the coffee gradually filling our veins with hope and heat and the promise of another royal fortune, when our younger daughter blurts out that it's the one-year anniversary of the worst day of her life: the afternoon she graduated from college.
"The absolute worst day," she insisted.
Didn't seem so bad at the time. As it happened, I was there the day she graduated, having flown in from the West Coast to her well-regarded heartland school, the University of Camelot. Mossy Scottish dells are no more lush.
On a windy Midwestern day, they started handing out the diplomas, some 12,000 of them over a series of days. Don't know if you've ever been to a gigantic graduation, but it's funereal the way it works, all the pre-collegiate work the AP courses, tutoring, service hours culminating in a dusty handshake from some fossil in a robe. A little medieval, if you ask me.
Since that milestone moment, things have really gone south for my daughter. Her first piece of bad luck was finding a decent job almost immediately. This demanded a certain sudden discipline and self-control that she had not acquired in four years of college.
Right after college, we're all Habsburgs. And Austria is finally slipping away.
Ask anyone who's ever gone to a good university, and they'll tell you the difficult part is getting in; once you're there, it's fairly manageable, and rampantly seductive.
It is, also, the very opposite of what a young adult will encounter in the workplace. In many ways, college makes us even less employable.
In college, you set your own schedule, eat when you want, eventually consuming several metric tons of molten pepperoni pizza.
In college, you get up late, you stay out late and keep somewhat fit at the most elaborate fitness facilities you'll ever see tanning beds, climbing walls.
If a boyfriend or girlfriend no longer excites you, you just trade them in for another. In college, romance is like a three-day car lease nothing down.
My favorite college kid story: For Mother's Day, a mom I work with was treated to a weekend visit from her freshman son. When she went to do his laundry, she discovered a pair of his girlfriend's pajama bottoms, and a bikini, amid her son's T-shirts and jeans.
American colleges. If there's a more troubling and decadent place to shred 200 grand, please text me the exact address.
I am a man of tiny doubts and strong opinions. I think Broadway shows are bloated, phony and overwrought. I think supermarket cheeses are tasteless replicas of real cheese. I think Elvis is the poor man's Jesus.
And I wonder now, on the anniversary of my daughter's graduation, whether I let her down, didn't counterbalance all the hedonism of college with more practical fatherly advice, didn't prepare her sufficiently for the transition between Camelot and 50 weeks of office work a year, no more summers off.
Guess I didn't want to scare her, or discourage her, or deaden the most spirited and enjoyable four years of her life.
After a 60-hour week, the realist in me now wants to tell her: "Hang in there, sweetie. You only have 45 more years of this left."
The parent in me wants to buy her ice cream and assure her that it's all going to be all right.
"College," Robert Frost once wrote, "is a refuge from hasty judgment."
So is adulthood.
In time, I suppose she'll adjust to the real world, or shun it and run off to join the circus. More likely, she'll do what we all do when we eventually miss the cheesy succulence of an American childhood:
Have some kids of her own.
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