Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Lost Graduation

My brother, David, self-published an e book a couple months ago - The Lost Graduation: Stepping off campus and into a crisis.

David's book is a recount of what he's gone through since graduating from college in May, 2008 interspersed with interviews and analysis of the Great Recession. The book is about two-thirds David's story of graduating from a good US university at the precipice of the financial crisis and one-thirds about how the US and world economy has affected young people beginning their careers.

David's dream upon graduation from college was to become a sports journalist. Growing up reading award-winning columnists at the Kansas City Star like Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock, David has wanted to be a sports writer for as long as I can remember. I know people who've fantasized about owning their own business and others who've wanted nothing more than to become a doctor or a lawyer. David's ideal working life, on the other hand, consisted of going to the storied venues of college and professional athletics and analyzing the games and athletes that play in those stadiums.

Unfortunately for David, on top of the general economic malaise that awaited him at his graduation was the complete free-fall of the journalism industry as a whole. David's dream job - which is not particularly well-paid, prestigious, or, in other times, that difficult to attain - became at the time he entered working age an impossibility.

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There are several familiar characters to me in David's book. My Mom, my Dad, our extended family, my brother's friends, and, of course, myself.

I make an appearance about half-way through the 250 to 300 or so page book (this is only an E Book so I'm not sure exactly how many physical pages it would be printed out).

In the winter of '08/'09, my brother was working 15 hours a week at a library and living back at my parents' house in Kansas City. He'd been so close to finding jobs at newspapers in Colorado and Lawrence, Kansas in September of 2008. He was the number one candidate to fill two positions - David thought he would have a choice of jobs for a few fleeting days - only to find out at the last minute that Fannie and Freddy being nationalized and Lehman Brothers going bankrupt really did affect "Main Street." Neither paper hired for the positions my brother seemed so close to filling and, instead, started cutting staff.

When David was living at my parents' at this time in late '08/early '09, I was living in Xi'an, traveling, studying Chinese, and working a cushy job. In my opinion, I was "living the dream." Life was good. I was enjoying my day-to-day existence in China very much with my, at the time, fiancee, Qian.

One day during an email back-and-forth about his difficulties finding work and living with my parents, David recalls in his book that I dropped the line: "Well, there's always China..."

David had no real interest in moving to China. He'd visited me in 2007 and despite liking traveling in China didn't really see it as a place he wanted to live. He was still doggedly searching for work as a journalist too. Living at my parents' and not finding any open doors for months did something to David, though. As time went on and he kept spinning his wheels, he knew that he needed a change. What bigger change could he have than moving to China?

China ends up making an appearance in The Lost Graduation. David in September of 2009 moved to Jinan in Shandong Province to be an English teacher at a private English training school. He goes into great detail about what life and teaching was like in a polluted backwater in central China. His lucid stories China brought back many memories for me.

China only plays a minor role in David's book, though. He never quite got into China as much as I did. He stayed there for a year and then moved on to graduate school in Aarhus, Denmark for one year and then Amsterdam for the second year.

Throughout documenting his personal trevails, David does a real nice job of framing his employment problems within the larger context of the world economy as a whole. David interviews dozens of journalists and academics to get a clearer picture about what the down economy is meaning to people entering the work force as well as what it will mean for their careers after the recession ends.

It's not a pretty picture.

Young people's future earnings are largely shaped during their first few years in the work force. As David discusses with thinkers in his book, not only is life now difficult for young people looking for work, it will be in the future too. The millions of young graduates today really are going to be a "lost generation" or workers. Since so many have not and, at this point, will not develop the skills necessary for the advancement of their careers, the effects of the current economic crisis will be felt by the young people not lucky enough to find work for the rest of their lives.

Fortunately for David, he has persevered. I'll let you find out exactly how he innovatively improvised with the bad cards he was been dealt by reading the book. He's done a commendable job that, I think, is a good model for other young people living in western societies struggling to get on their feet.

My favorite part of David's book is the end. Instead of dwelling on the sad and gloomy prospects that face him and his generation (my generation too, although David explains why there was a big difference in graduating in the class of '05 like I did and when he did in '08), David by the end of the book is able to discuss the positive, unique experiences he's had - living in China, living in Europe, meeting people he never would have in a more traditional career path, traveling, etc.

There is one point in the book where David is emailing with a journalist who has the job that David wants writing about the NBA for a national website. David is insanely jealous of what this guy is getting paid to do. But instead of sensing joy from this journalist's email, he sensed jealousy. The journalist told David that he is envious of David since David is living abroad in a different culture with a, relatively, stress-free life. This was a realization for David that life could be much worse and that he's been afforded many opportunities that others would love to have.

The Lost Graduation is an impressive book and a complete success.

When David told me he was working on a book about his life and the Great Recession, I was honestly skeptical of it. The premise of the book - talking about his struggles and how bad young people have it - didn't seem like something that would come out well. It just sounded to me on the surface like it would come off as complaining and full of "woe is me."

I have to say that David skillfully avoided falling into the traps that I thought he might. David does not come across as entitled or complaining and, in fact, makes very convincing arguments that won me over. My perceptions about my generation and the economy as a whole have changed.

The Lost Graduation is available at for $6.99. I implore you to check it out. I'm biased, but it's a very worthwhile read.