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Campus Overload
Posted at 09:02 AM ET, 07/13/2012

#last5years: Learning continues after graduation, especially in a rough economy

Television shows like “Friends,” “Girls” and “How I Met Your Mother” are popular because they capture the very real struggle that most 20-somethings face as they try to find their place in the world. Those first handful of years out of college have always been tough, as people establish their careers, find their true friends, try not to go into dire debt, deal with family drama and, hopefully, fall in love at least once.

For the past five years, there has been an added element to that struggle: The roller coaster economy and super competitive job market.

(Instagram photo by Jenna Johnson)
I wrote an article for today’s paper about the Class of 2007 — the last class to graduate before the recession hit. (That’s also the year that I graduated college.)

“When you graduated in 2007, the world was your oyster. Everything seemed like it was on the upswing,” said Lizzie Jordan, a Georgetown University alum who helped to organize her five-year reunion the first weekend in June. “Then, as a product of the recession, people had to figure out their own path.”

In addition to calling up 2007 reunion organizers at several schools, I tagged along to a five-year reunion at Dickinson College in south-central Pennsylvania in early June to talk with alums my age about the experiences of the past five years.

Everyone was well-aware of just how bad they had been. For many, money has been tight, jobs haven’t been perfect, graduate school has been a logical hide-out and benefits have been a luxury. If they were not unemployed for a spell, then they had close friends (or parents) who were.

This is a generation that has been stereotyped as being self-centered, coddled and lazy. But really, I think this is a generation that has been forced to be self-promotional and entrepreneurial to stand out from other job applicants, thrifty and humble in ways that include moving back home, and multitaskers who juggle jobs, passions and responsibilities.

“Our generation — how should I put this? — we’re very passionate about the things we care about. We want to go to a job and love it,” said Mike Ott, 27, a 2007 Princeton University grad who just finished business school and helped organize a five-year reunion in June. “Two generations ago, people saw having a job as a way to put food on the table and put a roof over their heads and accrue enough vacation time to go do the things they loved.”

But sometimes finding a job that matches that passion, or simply figuring out your passion, can be a frustrating journey, even in the best of economic times.

So, what about you? Whether you graduated in 2007 or 30 years ago, what were the first five years out of college like for you? What do you wish that you had known then that you know now?

I would love to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments section below or on Twitter, using the hashtag #last5years:

By  |  09:02 AM ET, 07/13/2012

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