Dear Class of 2020

Whatever your plans were for this spring, they’ve probably been messed up in a big way. Maybe your plans for the summer, too. Homeschoolers don’t necessarily participate in the big events of senior year, like class trip and prom, but it’s tough when the camp counselor job is cancelled or the summer internship is put on hold. And what about college?? Will there even be a freshman class this fall?

When plans are spiked, hearts are sad. That’s not very profound, but everyone knows the sting of disappointment. One unique feature about the current crisis, though, is that it’s affected the whole world to some degree. In the United States, some are running through their meager savings like a fast freight, some are visiting food banks for the first time, some are seeing their business hit the ground just when it seemed to be taking off. And some are grieving for a loved one who succumbed to the disease. While not minimizing the terrible toll of COVID19, both in lost lives and lost incomes, there will also be opportunities opening up, if you train your eyes to see them.

The four-year traditional-college track has been questionable for a long time, with tuition jacking up year by year (10 times the rate of inflation) and total student debt now over one trillion dollars. Though it may still be true that a college degree ensures a larger lifetime income (usually), 40% or more of students who enroll in college never finish, but still owe the money. Half a college degree earns nothing.

I hope Americans are beginning to realize that college is not for everybody, and was never meant for everybody. At best, it can’t meet the needs of students whose intelligence is not geared toward academics, and at worst it’s an overpriced indoctrination machine. Some of this year’s graduating seniors would be better off going into the trades, both financially and in terms of personal satisfaction. Mike Rowe, the “dirty jobs” guy, has a lot to say about this.

Others might go for short-term training toward a certified service job, like a hospital technician or paralegal. The advantage is a relatively small investment in time and money, with a quick payoff. (Even though you’d better do some research ahead of time, to know where the openings are.)

But going into a service job or trade doesn’t mean you’re stuck there. In my daughter’s homeschool class was one young man who, after graduation, spent a year training to be an EMT, worked on ambulance runs for two years, and used the money he earned to start a successful photography business. Now he’s a respected videographer who takes on projects all over the world. (And if he’s ever working with someone who has a heart attack or goes into shock, he’ll know exactly what to do.)

That little story opens up what I really want to talk about: entrepreneurship.

Good workers solve problems. Entrepreneurs find problems to solve.

That word doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own business and making lots of money—although that could happen. Entrepreneurship can be practiced within a profession or existing job. It’s more a frame of mind, a way of navigating the world of work.

Good workers solve problems. Entrepreneurs find problems to solve.

One problem I see with young people, at least as reported in the news and cultural commentary, is a declining sense of agency, or the the ability to affect one’s own circumstances. It may just be that the news media want to play up dependency and victimhood, or that constant demands on a teen’s attention, especially from that little device that seems glued to her hand, saps personal initiative. Or it may be that a steady stream of sky-is-falling bad news creates a pessimistic, hopeless state of mind. If that’s the case, it’s a crime.

Everyone possesses a degree of agency. Everyone has the God-given ability to act in the world; that’s how we are created. Some are capable of more than others, because of natural talent or greater resources. But even a foster kid in juvvie has the ability to make something positive of his life and the world around him. The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) a nonprofit based in New York City, has taught their program to young people in prison, some of whom have begun successful micro-businesses even while behind bars.

Entrepreneurship is not a certain path to riches. It’s a way of thinking. No matter how bleak the employment situation looks, there’s always a problem you can solve. No matter how bad the situation is, there’s always something you can do about it.

If you don’t know what to do with your life, start living by doing.

If your college plans for the fall were derailed, this is an excellent time to take a gap year. I’m a fan of gap years anyway—a chance to begin taking responsibility for yourself by working, volunteering, or traveling, or all three. If you don’t know what to do with your life, start living by doing. What problems do you see? What skills do you have to offer? What inclinations can you develop into skills?

You have time to figure this out, but now’s the time to start figuring. Go for it, class of 2020!

Also at Redeemed Reader:

  • Don’t miss our interview with Gene Edward Veith on Work and Vocation.
  • In Calling All Minds, Temple Grandin encourages kids to exercise their initiative by exploring their individual brands of creativity.
  • Adulting 101 is a friendly, relatable guide for young people beginning to take responsibility for themselves. See our review.

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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