Stay Optimistic, Grads!

Are you tired of hearing about the state of the economy? Well, too bad. It stinks out there and in just two weeks, a few thousand of us are going to don low-quality polyester gowns and walk with pomp only to be thrown out into the world once and for all to experience it for ourselves.

Some of us might seek refuge for a little longer in a professional or graduate school. Some will hide for even longer still in pursuit of a doctorate. But at some point, each and every one of us will have to face the music. The job market’s tough, and the reality is that our degrees just might not cut it.

Current unemployment rates put almost 1 in 10 Americans out of a job right now, yet we continue to accept debt for things like education because we think it will do something to help increase our chance for success in the long run. We hope that it will somehow put us ahead in the race against our peers who we compete with under the exact same circumstances.

Wait a second, I’m sorry. We are getting ready to take the next big step in our lives and I just wrote some of the most depressing stuff that I ever have in my time as a staff writer. And it is not particularly nice of me; I’m sure you have a great personality and you probably interview really well.

But maybe you weren’t really paying attention to what I said anyway.

New studies conducted with non-invasive brain imaging technology show that we are far more likely to react to and store outrageously positive data, such as an instance of winning the lottery, than we are to consider the negative. In fact, our brains tend to skip over the unexpectedly bad data altogether. As it turns out, recognizing and acting on these negative statistics actually does us a disservice. Overall, the more optimistic among us are likely to have less anxiety and better health, which evolutionarily speaking is just what the species ordered. Our primal instincts let us believe that we will remain beyond the reach of cancer that affects 1 in 3 Americans because it’s better for the species to believe that its individuals are healthy and capable of producing viable offspring.

In the context of the job market, we are geared to search for and expect the high paying job right out the door, even though we know deep down that the chances of getting it are slim. It is better for us if we keep the dream alive, though. As long as we believe that it is possible to attain the CEO spot in a Fortune 500, we will continue to work toward something, and that something is way better than nothing. Maybe you end up a manager in some company’s regional headquarters, or the owner of your own small business or a freelance writer. Either way, doing now what you believe will get you where you so optimistically want to go gets you somewhere.

Even the post-docs or grad students – the productive ones anyway – believe that the obscure dissertation he or she is working on will amount to something someday. And I thank them for that. If they didn’t, the human race might miss out on valuable insights from the 30-year-old studying sub-Saharan African insurgencies, or the cultural discoveries of the 20-something writing his dissertation entirely in Latin.

Or maybe they won’t. But they could, and isn’t that the point?

How will we ever know if their work is useful unless they, their advisors, and their granting institutions have faith in the potential of these obscure applications of their hard-earned knowledge? We can’t possibly know unless we accept and celebrate the fact that there is a small chance that they will lead us to these great discoveries.

We are all at least vaguely aware of our less-than-likely chances of obtaining worldwide fame and great fortune, but we remain optimistic and confident that our hard earned degrees will do something to help us get there in the long run. Optimism is a good thing. It’s what keeps us going. We believe that even if odds are low, there is a chance that we can achieve something, so we continue to try. At the very least, an attempt at reaching some ultimate goal, no matter how unlikely it may be, is productive.

So here’s to you, soon-to-be graduates. Use your optimism as a source of inspiration and hope where others before you have given up. Yes, it’s trite, but even if you can’t quite reach the moon, at least you’ll fall somewhere among the stars.

Ariana Santoro is a fourth-year physics and political science double major. She can be reached at asantoro@uci.edu.