Out of the classrooms and into the streets

Soon after graduation, the problems of the world will hit you like a mugger on the outskirts of Dinkytown.

John Hoff

As Dorothy said in “The Wizard of Oz,” “People come and go so quickly here.” The whole point of being on a campus is to leave, to go somewhere else and have a positive impact. So, I say, get out of here already.

For those about to graduate (and please enjoy the annual name mangling ritualistic sacrifice of random, innocent victims) you will barely get your robe off and toss your tassel in a box of precious collegiate artifacts before the problems of the world will hit you like a mugger on the outskirts of Dinkytown.

First, how will you pay your student loans? For myself, I found enlisting in the military during an impending war worked out pretty well. I was given a sweet hospital job in El Paso, Texas, and my loans were paid off in three years. Vocational training on top of my degree set me up pretty well for some great-paying jobs.

But, of course, that was a different war.

So I don’t know what you’re going to do. Given the state of the economy, I would suggest you start filling out your application for grad school. The last thing you need is to be “out in the economy” while the economy is this bad. Dig in and go for another degree. If you’re already done with grad school, go for the doctorate.

Driven to discover, I say. Discover a way to keep all your student loans from coming due right away. Forget what I said about getting out of here. I only meant take a journey of self-discovery for a few months or so. Academia is paradise. Why would I want to drive you from the Garden of Eden?

Look at the beautiful buildings on our campus, the flowers, young and attractive people. Is this not what utopia looks like? Once you leave, soon enough you’ll be dying for a chance to return here.

Second, where will you live? A customary pattern is to cut off one of your limbs every month and present the bloody, severed thing to your landlord until you meet your “special someone” and decide to get a home together by pooling the $10 you have in savings and a big pile of credit card debt.

But I would suggest you take advantage of this incredible housing market and get a home. Maybe I can’t convince you to move to north Minneapolis, buy up Sixth Street and drive my property values higher. But get a home somewhere, anywhere. Don’t toss your equity in the sewer every month.

I don’t want to hear a lot of whining about a home being a “big commitment.” Have you ever heard of a “quit claim deed?” Honestly, homes can be sold as easily as a hot watch when it is between friends and relatives.

Premarital sex is a commitment. Driving while intoxicated is a commitment. A home is a place to kick back and enjoy your big screen television, then trade up when the housing market turns around, which it inevitably will.

Most important, how will you earn a living?

There is a serious disconnect between academia and the job market. Sure, there are plenty of great opportunities to learn employment-hunting skills, polish your resume and even conduct “mock job interviews” to practice for the real thing.

Though, truthfully, if you start mocking during a job interview, you probably won’t get the job.

See? That’s an example of the “disconnect” I was talking about between academia and pounding the cold, hard streets with your resume in hand. Mock job interviews, indeed! Those crazy egghead intellectuals and their funny, precious ideas!

But when it comes to landing a good job, you’re pretty much on your own. Academia wishes you well but won’t seek a job for you as enthusiastically as they sought your enrollment. Gas prices are sky high, credit is tight and somebody in India can do your job a lot cheaper, so your job went away before you actually got it.

Thanks, Republicans, a lot of us will be seeing you in the streets of St. Paul during your convention. Gee, I hope radical anarchist squatters from Eugene, Ore., don’t take over empty buildings left vacant from rampant mortgage fraud.

In these tough times, our only big advantage is the Internet. So blog, network and e-mail until your fingers bleed to find a way to get yourself to the top of the economic heap.

When I was a teaching assistant at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, we were slowly figuring out how to deal with the “blogosphere” and its impact on other forms of media such as newspapers printed on dead trees.

“How quaint,” one of my colleagues used to chuckle.

In one of the classes, we tried to incorporate blogging into the curriculum. This involved having students find news articles and basically reproduce those articles with commentary. We also created little chat rooms which, truthfully, were never quite as exciting as the chat rooms of the “real virtual world.”

But I also tried to keep up with the personal blogs of my students. One day, one of these students wrote a dramatic firsthand account of a fire in a building near her apartment. She captured details other news media had missed or neglected.

Why, I began to wonder, are we holding these students back? Why don’t we unleash their incredible power on the Internet? Let our students have a serious impact as journalists from day one, through blogging.

Don’t give them hypothetical assignments, but send them out to document real stories which would otherwise get missed. If nothing else, have them dig up and summarize individual police reports.

Imagine if every block of every city had its stories told, its incidents documented, its evolving ideas captured in the sticky virtual amber of the Internet. To discover what may be possible, I am testing my “blogger of the block” model.

Yes, academia is a comfortable place, and I’m admittedly reluctant to leave it. But our world needs us, and this University is not big enough to contain our amazing potential.

So run, frolic, shout, and get to work changing this awful mess of a universe.

Out of the classrooms and into the streets.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]