There’s a lot to complain about in Philadelphia these days, and it’s getting harder to find any legitimate points of pride. Sure, we may be on the brink of hosting the to-be third-tallest building in the United States, but what’s that going to do for the city?
It sure won’t fill the massive black hole being passed off for the public school system. I doubt that it will force lowlifes to change their minds about assaulting three unsuspecting SEPTA commuters, one of whom was killed, in recent weeks.
One thing it certainly won’t do is keep Philly graduates in the area after finishing their college educations. According to a recent study by the Knowledge Industry Partnership, a Philadelphia coalition working to maximize the region’s “knowledge industry” production, only 29 percent of graduates who come to the region to attend school stay put after graduation.
Philly draws many bright and ambitious young people to its institutions and universities. But less than one-third stay. The ones who do remain, for the most part, had vested interest in the city before attending one of its schools – a KIP study found that 86 percent of native graduates remain local.
Many graduates leave. Some stay and go hungry. A lucky few find employment beyond working jobs similar to those they had in college.
Essentially, the people who give Philly a good reputation are the same people who pack their bags upon graduation.
This coming-and-going system percolates down from the business and educational sectors and into cultural areas. Sure, Philly has a strong music scene. There are a solid 40 people who you can expect to see at most punk and metal shows, as well as many “weekend warriors” who venture down from the suburbs to make appearances at particularly high-profile events.
“The scene is full of late-teens and early twenty-somethings who go to college, become a temporary part of something during their wild college years, then completely forget about it a few years down the road,” said an anonymous organizer who works for South Philly’s DIY venue Disgraceland.
It’s certainly valuable to have eight-semester members of the music scene, but the scene would be much stronger if more people called Philadelphia home.
For some, music is the driving force that keeps them in the city, even if living is easier elsewhere.
“When I graduated, my two bands [Acid Drop and Retard Strength] were what kept me in the city. I could’ve moved back in with my parents in New Jersey and not paid for rent or food,” said Matt Purchla, a 2007 Temple graduate with a degree in history. “The economy is really bad now, so it’s hard finding a job anywhere. I don’t really think, for me, it would be any less difficult in another city.”
Purchla now happily works for the Philadelphia Metro, where he said he makes enough money to pay the bills, while still having time for his musical endeavors.
All around town, there are young people who hastily chase after other people’s dreams, trying desperately to fit into some sort of groove that will miraculously be unique to them, all while living the rigorous life of a full-time college student. After a few years in school, no student wants to be known just as a college student. Be it a basement punk band, art collective, fraternity or sorority, everyone wants to be someone.
However, many fail to see that juxtaposing a conventional college education with involvement in something like a punk band often leads to a difficult decision. With jobs being scarce in Philadelphia, it’s tempting for some to abandon the lifestyles maintained throughout college and pursue a more lucrative career somewhere else.
Some would call this “selling out.”
The college years are often hailed as an ideal time for self-searching. Young people are encouraged to “find themselves” while in college. In a city like Philadelphia, there are boundless opportunities to fine-tune one’s personality and character. But before committing entirely to a cause or community, it is most important to consider the future – what will your involvement mean if you jump ship as soon as you’re out of school?
Julian Root can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.