Graduates Prepare to Enter an Uncertain World

Economic Anxiety Darkens Traditional Time of Optimism

Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 18, 2008; Page C04

Washington area colleges and universities will release thousands of fresh new graduates this weekend into an uncertain economy that has shaved off just a bit of their usual optimism and energy.

The graduates -- George Mason alone awarded 6,988 degrees yesterday, a school record -- will find a slowing economy. For the week ending May 3, the number of people receiving unemployment benefits rose by 28,000 to 3.06 million, according to Labor Department figures.

Also graduating yesterday were seniors at Bowie State University, Georgetown University and Patrick Henry College. Ceremonies are slated for today at the University of Virginia, George Washington University and Trinity Washington University.

Even in these uncertain economic times, the 851 graduates from Georgetown were told yesterday, there are opportunities to make profound impacts on the lives of the less fortunate.

"The world needs your inexperience . . . to solve problems that many more experienced people have given up on," said Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, who outlined the idea of the national teaching corps to benefit the country's neediest schools in her senior thesis in 1989 at Princeton University.

"And the world needs you now because accomplishments take time," said Kopp, chief executive of the teaching corps. The challenges of creating equitable educational opportunities -- Teach for America's mission -- or eliminating poverty, she said, "are massive and inconceivably complex, and finding and implementing the path to success takes time."

The message was not lost on Georgetown graduate Vincent Jeffrey, 22, of Manhasset, N.Y., who was among the school's 85 graduates who applied this spring to join Teach for America. University officials said the organization will, for the second consecutive year, be the top private employer for the school's graduating class, with 59 graduates accepted for the two-year teaching program.

Jeffrey recently learned he did not make the final cut and will instead take an interim job working on the campaign of a state senator in New York this summer while he also studies for his law school entrance exam. But the government major said: "I'm definitely interested to see if the teaching can happen. . . . [Kopp's] speech was the exact reasons I wanted to do it in the first place."

In the meantime, said his father, John, the future is uncertain for the Class of 2008.

"This is so much different than the '70s, when we graduated, and it was so much easier to get a job," said John Jeffrey, 54. "There was competition domestically but not with someone who got an outsourced job. The benefits of globalization and the challenge of globalization is going to hit this generation."

At George Mason, Kritesh Gautam, 21, who received a bachelor of science degree in administration of justice, is planning to go to law school in a few years. But first he has to hunt for internships.

"The way the economy is trending, it's not looking too good," he said.

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