From the Archives

by nelgrey

I have a problem. No, I am not referring to any of the self-diagnosed  personality disorders that I’ve convinced myself I suffer from. I am talking about the fact that I am to this date, unable to answer the question “What will you do with your degree when you graduate?”  I want to say “I have no idea”, but social courtesy would have me construct a response that appeases the person to whom I am speaking, and that response will more than likely aggravate than appease. As such, I find that I will generally say anything from ‘professor’ to ‘social worker’, and on rare occasions, ‘lawyer’ comes up as an appropriate answer.

I was recently required to answer the aforementioned question as part of a biography that was being included in a booklet and as I am writing this article, I find myself struggling to come up with a good answer. If I have nothing, I may be perceived as a wayward soul that lacks ambition. On the other hand, I don’t want to give a statement that does not accurately reflect where I see myself heading in life. Like every person searching for an evasive answer to life’s important questions, I went to Google. After spending half hour trying to find tests and articles that would give me some clarity on what my life’s purpose is, I turned to my outlet of choice for personal catharsis; the written word (which takes its shape in the form of the article you are reading right now).

I went back to the email that was sent to me hoping I could find a loophole in the syntactical arrangement that would allow me to avoid confronting the actual question but was unsuccessful. After reading it again, the specificity of the question as it relates to the utilization of my degree began to bother me. The question was not asking me what I want to do with my life, it was asking me how I plan to make use what will be the accumulation of four years of money, time, energy, tears, premature grey hairs and expectations. Is it then the case where I am defined by the program I pursued during my tenure as an undergraduate student? I’m not so sure I want to be confined to that. 

Don’t ask me what I plan to do with my degree. Ask me how I plan to effect change, make my mark in the world and/or realize my potential. If someone asks me the question, “What are your ambitions?” I don’t want to use the established template of “I want to be a *insert occupation here*” because I think it obscures the richness of individual motivation. As a response to the question of ambition, I want to be able to say that my goals are: (i) to provide a space where marginalized bodies can have their voices heard, (ii) to affirm and reaffirm the existence of those who are made to feel less than worthy and (iii)to encourage a collective consciousness of the shared human experience of pain in the hopes that it foster empathy. I haven’t found those aims listed in any job description thus far, but I am sure those aims can be actualized through more than one occupation. So, please don’t ask me what I plan to do with my degree, ask something that elicits the response we are really both looking for.