I spent most of yesterday at the Barrett Honor's College orientation and I have to say that I was quite impressed. It's obviously a great program and the folks who have put it together have shown tremendous vision and dedication.
The orientation/welcome speech was the same theme as every honors orientation speech in the country--you are the smartest of the smart; you are the future leaders...there is so much talent in this room etc.
In other words, complete crap.
The speech was made to a group of bright, enthusiastic, energetic, talented kids many of whom think that their degree in Sociology/Political Science will help them get a job someday. Kids who four years from now will find out that they actually are not on a track to become a future leader. They are on track to work at Starbucks and join a class action suit in which they argue that they borrowed $80,000 and spent four years reading Proust and Nietzsche in response to vague promises of future riches, and that their current salary at Home Depot is insufficient to pay those loans back.
I spent the entire time thinking about what I would have said if they had let me conduct orientation. Here's what I would have said...which is, of course, why I will never be allowed to conduct orientation.
Welcome honors class of 2015. You have exhibited tremendous talent and dedication to make it into this room. You have among the highest GPAs and SAT scores in the nation and you have spent countless hours engaging in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, travel and public service. Congratulations on your accomplishment.
If you take history courses during your four years here--which I encourage you to do--you will learn that the history of mankind consists of subsistence farming and early death. It is unlikely that you will face this future. However, it is not your prior efforts that have made this future unlikely for you. It is the prior efforts of the generations who came before you--especially your parents--who have made this future unlikely.
No, you will not be a subsistence farmer. Since you legally reside in the United States and speak English, you are currently qualified to work at Starbucks or McDonalds....
You think I'm being condescending, but I assure you that I am not. Starbucks is an honorable job, conducted by hardworking people. I bussed tables through high school and worked for a roofing company and at Costco while in college. Those are honorable jobs and I was very pleased to have them.
However, I will assume that since you are here, you don't aspire to a job at Starbucks. That means that you will spend four years and likely borrow $80,000 in an effort to acquire skills that will allow you to be "future leaders." Let's be clear about a couple things. First, many of you are unlikely to acquire the skills that will enable you to pay your $80,000 in loans back. Second, by "future leaders" we mean "middle management." Third, while one or two of you may become Rhodes Scholars or CEO's---some of you will also become homeless or go to prison.
While it's true that the next Bill Gates may be in this room, it's more likely that he's on Academic Probation in the CIS department.
Again, I sound like I'm being condescending, but I'm not. Middle management is a great place to be. I've spent most of my life in middle management and you can have tremendous job satisfaction, earn enough money to raise a family and generally pay a mortgage. You are likely to enjoy a standard of living that your grandparents could not comprehend and that the rest of the world only dreams of.
Let me take a moment and be honest. If you insist on majoring in History, Western Civ., Sociology, gender studies, Political Science, journalism or a host of other majors that do not produce skills, then four years and $80,000 from now you are likely to be disappointed when you discuss Hegel and Kant while making Vente Lattes.
Let me suggest two paths that will save you a great deal of time and money while at the same time providing you the skills that will allow you to make a decent living.
Let's start with truck driving school.
You think I'm joking, but I'm not. Truck driving is an honorable profession. You could learn to drive the big rigs in a matter of months, then you could spend a couple years traveling the country for fairly good money. If you listen to books on tape, you could finish a book each week on the open road. After a couple years, you will have a marketable skill, you will have read perhaps 100-150 important books, seen the country and met a lot of interesting people. You will, in short, be employable. You may also decide that you want to go back to school and learn accounting, finance or engineering.
Or you may decide to stay here at the honors college...but only if you can answer this riddle.
I have a 16 year old daughter who is on her high school track team. I'm a 48 year old lawyer. Who would win if we decide to race?
The answer depends on the distance. If we race a mile or two, she would crush me. In fact, if we race even 25 or 50 meters, she crushes me. But I can beat her about half the time when we race five feet. That's because her talent and superior skill only show up in a hard race. If it's an easy race then she can't distinguish herself from me.
Your academic skills are similar to my daughter's track skills--so pick a hard race. I know that you would like to major in History or Political Science. I know that you will get straight As and have a great time in college, but when you graduate, your skills will be indistinguishable from the kid who barely made it through high school and majored in Sociology because it left him plenty of time to chase women and drink beer.
You need to take Calculus...and statistics, finance, accounting and economics. Pick a hard major take hard classes and learn what it's like to get a C. Learn to struggle. Learn to fail. Distinguish yourself and at the same time, earn a degree that actually has a job at the end of it. Go to the Carey school and learn Accounting, Finance, Supply Chain Management or Computer Information Systems. You are very smart, so go to the engineering department and learn how to build bridges or computers or railroads.
I know what you are going to say..."I'm planning to go to law school."
Good luck with that. When I went to law school, 3,500 people applied for 160 slots. So there are a lot of you who will apply and not make it. I know, you are an honors student, so you are more likely to make it, but I bet there's more than 160 of you in this room who want to go to law school and there are a lot of rooms like this out there, so don't kid your self.
And what if you make it to law school? Have you seen the unemployment rate for new law school graduates? Is that your back up plan Mr. Political Science major? And while I'm being honest, let me mention that law school doesn't actually teach you to practice law. I know that's shocking, but it's possible that you could get a degree in Sociology and then a degree in law and you will have spent seven years and $180,000 and not have the skills it takes to get a decent job, much less pay back your loan.
If I hire you as an attorney, I will be happy to teach you how the law applies to your chosen field...but you have to already have a chosen field. I'm not going to teach you law AND Accounting. If you don't know how to read a Balance Sheet or calculate the Weighted Average Cost of Capital, don't waste my time.
So yes, you are the best and the brightest, you are the future leaders and--unlike the generations who came before you--you are unlikely spend your years trying to grow enough crops to survive until age 40.
You have been given a tremendous gift. You have four years to learn enough skills to avoid spending the rest of your life doing low skilled tasks for minimum wage while wondering if you really did have the potential that your high school counselor said you had.
This is your shot. Very few people get a shot like this . Don't blow it.
If you don't want to major in something that will actually generate a job, then perhaps college isn't for you. I was serious about truck driving school. Here are a few other paths that would cost less than $80,000 and pay much better than a degree in Sociology or Journalism.
Become a Campaign Consultant:
Spend the next couple years volunteering for political campaigns--the current city of Phoenix race is a great example. Pound signs, organize volunteers, help distribute literature. Then go to Tucson and help with that mayoral contest...then volunteer for some congressional races. Ask if you can write the name tags and work at the welcome table for the fundraisers--wear a nice suit and introduce yourself to every contributor. Remember their names, memorize their contact information. After a year or so, you may start asking for minimum wage, but don't worry about that. Just work on 20 campaigns in the next few years.
Meanwhile, at night read political history and biographies. Also keep track of the issues--not so much the big issues, keep track of the little issues--like zoning cases. See if one of your winning candidates will appoint you to the planning and zoning board. You will learn more in a few years than a Political Science Major will ever know.
Start a Landscaping Company:
School will cost $80,000, so you have some capital. Buy a couple lawnmowers and hire a few workers and mow lawns for a few years. You will learn how to run a business, get clients and manage workers not to mention marketing, accounting and finance. You may even make a little money and during most of the year the weather is great.
Volunteer at a Law Firm.
Find a mid size law firm that has a "paper practice". That's a firm that handles a lot of little administrative issues--Filing LLC applications, foreclosures, evictions--after a few months, you will be doing a lot of the work and the partner will be reviewing and signing the forms. After a couple years, you will know as much as many of the the attorneys and you will certainly know more than any law school graduate.
If you enjoy it, you can get a degree in accounting or finance and then go to law school. Or you can just make good money as a paralegal.
Volunteer at an Accounting Office.
Same as above. Find a small accounting firm and volunteer during the summer. Spend your evenings learning the rules for individual and corporate tax returns. Eventually, you will do easy tax returns in tax season...after a year or two you can do more complicated returns and manage payroll and bookkeeping. You may want to go back and get an accounting degree, or you may just want to keep doing books.
Manage a Restaurant.
Find a restaurant in South Phoenix and volunteer to help. Wait tables and seat patrons. Eventually, you can do the books, order the supplies and help with advertising and marketing. You will experience a rich and varried culture and may even pick up some Spanish.
Play Professional Blackjack:
I played professional blackjack for a while. It teaches you a lot of important skills like statistics and risk analysis. It also teaches you to work under pressure and tolerate big wins and losses. Many of the big Wall Street quants started out as blackjack players. Take a few weeks and really learn the game; read all the blackjack books; subscribe to the websites then take $1,000 and play $5 to $25 hands for a month. If you prove to yourself that you can really play, then raise your stake to $10,000 start playing $25 to $200 hands. You will soon learn that you have to play without getting caught. I'm still banned from an handful of Vegas casinos. I must have been moving my lips when I counted.
Play Professional Poker:
This is the same theory as blackjack. Learn as much as you can. Start small; don't get in over your head. You will learn more about yourself and others than you will learn studying psychology for four years.
Start a real estate company:
You are 19 it's time to start buying and selling houses. Start your own real estate company and then take classes at Scottsdale Community College. Get your Associates Degree while learning how to buy and sell, write contracts, borrow money and deal with people. Then you can go to the regular ASU program and night. When you are in your mid forties you can go back and get a W.P. Carey Executive MBA...then after you have a graduate degree and 25 years work experience, you can run for Congress. That was David Schweikert's path...you may have heard of him; he's one of America's leaders.