There I sat on the bleachers in the auditorium of Copper Beach Elementary, paying little attention to a primary school awards ceremony, not knowing that it would serve as a model for the actions of my peers throughout my scholastic life. As various academic certificates, medals, and pins were handed out I remained seated, thankful simply to be out of class. It was the last award that grabbed my attention: community service. A gleeful ten year-old girl received a shiny metal for hundreds- yes, hundreds- of hours of community service. As I looked at her and her parents it became clear to me that they all felt she had won some sort of contest, some kind of accolade that made her “better” than the rest of us.
It was her victorious feeling that confused me. What had she won? Was not the point and reward of helping others, helping others? I realized then that charity could be used for the means of bettering ones social standing and immediately concluded that her parents had set her forth to accomplish the task. I mean honestly, on the off chance of sainthood, no kid willingly spends every weekend at a soup kitchen.
Throughout my academic career and even now in my senior year of college, I have noticed a similar oddity: students participating in extracurricular activities in order raise their class standing, rather than to enrich their lives.
As a college students readying to enter an uncertain business climate where our careers are likely to shift several times, we are under more pressure to pad our resumes than ever before. More students are graduating high school and going to college. Classes are getting bigger, less personal, and job growth is slow. The fear of getting overlooked in a crowd of graduates is reasonable, but committing to student professional organizations just to mention it in an interview still seemed wrong to me during freshman year. After all, wasn’t the point of college to explore new things and discover yourself before you set out into the world?
Maybe not, since during my freshman year teachers and guidance counselors sent a different message. The message that college is a competition for grades, accolades and internships with the ultimate goal of the best resume and the best job offer. Gone was my time to experiment and explore interests in a four year career, I had an entire business class to keep up with If I was to ensure future employment. My advisors and professors all informed me that my marketing degree should be paired with a similar business minor to make the degree competitive in a post 2008 business world. I originally hoped my four year curriculum would leave room for a minor outside the Fox school, perhaps philosophy? It seemed a few choice General Education classes would have to suffice to explore my many interests, if I was to have a degree that was respected by employers.
It seems that today, graduating is simply not the accomplishment it once was. Students feel forced to discover their career path quicker, get multiple internships, join the “right” groups, simply to give their hard earned grades relevance. Going in I knew that grades were important to employers, but had no idea that a bar would actually be set simply to be qualified to apply for uncompensated labor. Teachers repeating over and over sub 3.0 warnings, as if it was simply not an accomplishment to have anything less. I knew that getting involved outside the classroom would be a large part of my college experience but never thought I’d be pressured by counselors to join my major’s “student professional organization,” simply because “It’s important for you to be involved with these groups for internships and job opportunities”. Wasn’t this the point of my degree and why- if IBetter needed voluntary group membership to be taken seriously- was I paying out-of-state tuition to acquire it?
All these expectations and requirements are intended to serve the purpose of motivating students to better themselves and become prepared to enter the workforce. However, motivation is not the only reaction to such resume requirements. I notice many fellow students suffer from a heightened amount of stress, typically encompassed by the statement, “If I don’t”. If I don’t get the grade, then I won’t get the internship and if I don’t get the internship I won’t get a good job.
Academic competition has reached the point that students fear falling behind the pace to the degree that some avoid taking time to explore and develop themselves personally and academically. It’s truly a shame that any student could fear the costs of discovering what they want in life because ultimately, having “right” job is more about finding your passion than your paycheck.
What’s written on your resume does not define you, or what you have to offer the world. It may prove that you worked hard, and have a little experience, but it will miss all the things that truly make you who you are. If you disagree, think about how you would describe yourself to a potential friend and see how many of those qualities show up on your resume.
Matt Kirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.