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Student Life

Follow your dreams? Graduation isn't all it's cracked up to be...

The class of 2013 is out of money, out of work and out of luck. Time to make the best of it, says Ian Horrocks, however we can.

I always thought graduation was supposed to be party-time. The end of exams, the beginning of an exciting career, the completion of a child’s byzantine introduction to adulthood – and independence. As I sit here writing this, with a can of beer and the ready salted crisp sandwich that I’m unconvincingly calling ‘dinner’, it feels like anything but.

I don’t know why I ever thought it would be party-time. Maybe that’s just what I’d been told growing up? After all, children do tend to believe the things they are told.

This is why we often worry about the effects of reinforcing negative attitudes in our young. We always fear for sapping the belief out of our kids and limiting their ambition.

But what about the hidden menace of positive paternal rhetoric? 'You can be anything you want to be' and 'you can do anything you want to do' are psychological platitudes embedded in the psyche of the graduates of 2013. They were drilled into us during school assemblies, whispered into our ears as we drifted off to sleep and subliminally underpinned by the vapid slogans of the TV shows we innocently devoured.

These motivational clichés are remnants of the cross-pollination by American culture that Britain has weathered over the course of the 20th century. Oh yes fellow students; the American Dream has drifted across the Atlantic and into our subconscious.

Our parents are the generation traditionally associated with the American Dream, but they were little more than the audience on this side of the Atlantic. An audience affected by their night at the theatre nonetheless, affected enough to pass down the surreal ideologies mythologised by the Americans to us, their dear children, the graduates of 2013.

And, as befitting a generation obsessed by re-appropriation and meme culture ('go home graduates, you’re drunk'), we’ve made it our own, forging a peculiar mash-up of British colonial snobbery and pig-headed American belief. If not the British Dream, perhaps we can call it the Western Entitlement.

Just like the American Dream, the Western Entitlement is a fallacy. Watered in the bosom of the boom years, we have flowered in a desert of austerity. Recent ONS stats suggest that school leavers with a single GCSE have the same chance of getting a job as those just graduated, while youth unemployment is creeping ever closer to the 1m mark. Imagine that, Britain, the youth employment millionaire, as enriched by the financial crisis, public sector cuts, immigration, whatever… we feel curiously detached from the mechanical causes of our suffering.

This detachment is mirrored in the way we live our lives too. Steven is a 21 year-old soon-to-be graduate of Northumbria Uni. He hasn’t been able to find graduate employment, despite spending the past eight months scouring every orifice of the job market. Although he’s not letting that get in the way of having a good time: “I spent my last money on the piss in Benidorm for four days; £30 of that went getting hustled on the beach playing which cup is the bead in?"

To hell with not being able to afford the lavish(ish) lifestyles that a degree once promised us. Why let the miserly business of economics get in the way of our cultural aspirations? That feeling of “I’ve got enough money left for one drink – it may as well be a double Jack Daniels” is a rather overwhelming one for the sons and daughters of the Western Entitlement. And why stop with the booze? It extends to the theatres we profess to frequent, the festivals we sneak into and even the places we live.

Simon, a 28 year-old about to graduate from his BSc Photography degree at the University of Westminster, has just been made redundant: “I have to find 500 quid a month for rent, with no job on the horizon. All the roles want years of experience.”

Maybe we are cultural snobs, unable to live or work below our haughty expectations. But what else do you expect of a generation brought up on mottos like 'reach for the stars' and 'follow your dreams'? If you mould a person’s mentality around such empty statements it is no wonder that upon reaching maturity they display detachment from reality.

Still, ready salted crisps aren’t that bad and I for one will happily eschew a good meal every night in exchange for a cultured social life at the weekend. Perhaps that is a part of the newly graduated me that will always be a student.

Ian Horrocks can be found on twitter here