Yay! Graduation time. Now what?


It’s graduation time. We have three kids graduating this year: one from university, one from high school and one from middle school. We are, of course, enormously proud of them. And we are, of course, concerned about their futures, the kind of work they’ll eventually find and the kind of world they’ll inherit.

The world felt like a more stable place when I was a kid. It was the post-WW2 era, and there were plenty of jobs, lots of optimism; we’d soon have flying cars and robots in our kitchens. We still don’t have those, but we got so much more, up to and including handheld supercomputers we blithely accept as ‘phones’. But we seem to have lost something, or many somethings in translation.

According to Buddhism there are three great sins: desire, hatred and confusion, and it seems as if civilization is currently being propelled by all three. As I dropped the kids off at school today I listened to the news. Someone in London drove a van into a crowd of Muslims in front of a mosque. The death toll in the Grenfell Tower now stands at 76. And a U.S. F-18 Hornet just shot down a Syrian fighter-bomber, a Russian-built SU-22. All of us, including our kids, are saturated by Trump tweets, fake news, celebrity gossip and junk TV. No doubt the Buddhists have it right. We’ve entered a new era of mass confusion, and it isn’t pretty.

I won’t get into desire (greed) and hatred (war, violence). It’s not much of a secret that our modern civilization runs on a capitalist economy that’s based on both competition and desire. The mechanics of the system are quite simple. Train our kids to be conscientious, competent and compliant, not to question the system, get great marks, have mom and dad get you a cell phone, sign up for college, if your parents aren’t rich take on student loans, graduate, take a year off to travel on your new credit card, get an entry-level management job or professional gig, find a partner with similar values, lease a car, get a mortgage, have a kid or two, get a promotion or two, and start saving for your RRSPs. Oh, and try not to watch too much news along the way. It’s a crazy world out there, and who needs to think about that?

The Career Professionals of Canada website tells us that, over a 20-year period, men who graduate university will make an average of $75,800 a year, women graduates will average $48,600. So the happy couple can bring in about $124,400 a year. Couples with only high school will average $67,000 a year. So there you go, graduates. From society’s point of view, especially the banks’, you are the math.

The metrics of materialism mattered less, I think, years ago. Only half a century ago, the majority of Canadians were religious. Today, young people are leaving organized religion “in droves” according to recent reports. Well, most young people. For children of immigrants maintaining their faith is still important. 

But as Kate Lunau writes in Maclean’s, when covering Reginald Bibby, the University of Lethbridge sociologist who heads up Project Teen way back in 2009, “the surveys still find that teens who belong to an organized religion—including Christianity, Islam and other faiths—tend to put a higher value on trust, honesty and concern for others. Religion has long been a “source of stability,” he [Bibby] says, not to mention a moral compass of sorts. For instance, 95 per cent of young people who “definitely” believe in God or a higher power also think this entity “expects us to be good to each other,” while just three per cent of atheists agree.” 

God just isn’t there to save Canada’s youth like he was 50 years ago. If it seems like hopelessness is on the rise, it might be so. The math tells the story. About 11 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 are depressed, according to Stats Canada. Even more alarmingly, a quarter of the deaths in this age group are suicides.

Charlotte Yates, dean of social sciences at McMaster, isn’t optimistic. She believes that Canada’s labour market with increasing job insecurity, more part-time and contract jobs, and stagnating wages, coupled with rising levels of personal debt, do not bode well for the future of today’s youth.

As I close this off, I’m checking the CBC News website for New Brunswick. There aren’t enough summer jobs for students, so the government is advising young people to start their own businesses. Meanwhile, meat prices are going up by 9 per cent, and the Saint John police are gearing up for the coming “fentanyl crisis”. 

Welcome to the graduating class of 2017.

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