There's been a lot of hullabaloo about an article by recent Northeastern graduate Taylor Cotter entitled, "A Struggle of Not Struggling." In this article, Taylor states:
I stuck with what I had always been told was the 'right' thing to do, and pursued a degree in journalism at Northeastern University, but made sure to take every conceivable step to make myself employable...Now, two months after graduation, I seem to be one of just a handful of people that's been able to get themselves on their feet, pay their own bills and actually put together some semblance of an adult life with minimal parental assistance. I bought a car, found an apartment and set up a 401k, just six months after turning 22. I came down on the 'right' side of every statistic — I found a job in my field that actually pays well, I'm living on my own, and seem to have everything that these other college graduates are dying to have.
I suppose that I'm grateful that I can make all my car payments and start saving for retirement while most of my friends are living at home and working part-time jobs — but I often find myself lamenting the fact that I'm not living at home and not working a part-time job. From my perspective, these are just some of the life-changing, character-building experiences that I may never have."
I, like Taylor, graduated from Northeastern with a full-time job lined up, after having spent five years doing “the right thing”: I had an amazing internship, got excellent grades, was an active student leader with New Student Orientation and the International Student & Scholar Institute, and was an active member of my sorority and school-wide sorority council. Unlike Taylor, I do not have my 401k started or have a new car in the driveway. I'm not even on a livable wage. I joined Americorps.
Do you want the “struggles” she romanticizes? Join a national service program. My best friends in the program are on food stamps, and I'm in the middle of going through the arduous process of doing so as well. I am dependent on my family and boyfriend for almost everything, from food, to my transportation, to entertainment. I've been seeking the help of a mental health counselor to help with my issues with stress, which leads to emotional eating. I don't get personal time, had to take two vacation days for my aunt's funeral, and I've cried myself to sleep more often than I'd like to admit.
I’m not saying that this is not the most rewarding thing that I have done in my entire life. I know that these struggles I am having now will be looked on fondly as character-building in my future. Even now, in the doldrums of a summer without students, I miss even the most frustrating ones. Every day, my co-workers and I share fond memories of the love notes we confiscated from our 6th graders, the joy in their eyes when we took them on a college tour, their enthusiasm and excitement for learning.
I am a firm believer in service. I spent much of my college life serving others, even traveling to New Orleans three times to support relief efforts there. Traveling down there as recently as 2011, the devastation from Katrina is still apparent in many parts of the city. My work with organizations such as HandsOn New Orleans, Habitat for Humanity, and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana cemented my desire to serve others. Now that I am a proud member of Americorps, I believe in service even more. I know that I am doing amazing things for the students I work with, but the experiences I will take away from this might benefit me just as much.
It's great that there are thousands of college graduates out there doing amazing things, with full time jobs that pay above the poverty level. These people should be grateful for all of their luck. Hell, despite my struggles, I still know how fortunate I am to have the life I lead. But to avoid future articles that just shout "white girl problems," I think it would be amazing for more people to spend one year in the field with a service program, like Americorps or the Peace Corps. While it is a guarantee that there will be difficult days, you will know what it means to earn what you have while making a real difference — and understanding real struggles.