The Irascible ProfessorSM
by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - April 20, 2011: You Can't Go Home Again, with Apologies to Thomas Wolfe. Guest commentary by Sanford Pinsker.
One of the few benefits of advancing age is perspective. For example, "back in the day," as emeritus professors like to put it, students gave the fish eye to questions about what they planned to do after graduation. No doubt this has always been the case but during the mid-seventies many liked to pull adult chains by claiming, in a straightest of faces, that they were destined to become "deadheads," ardent followers of the hugely popular underground band, "The Grateful Dead." No doubt most of these scamps were kidding, but some were not.
"What to do?" I wondered. "There must be some way to pull their chains -- the playful and the pompous alike. That's when I came up with the "Deadhead application form." I would pick a class with a healthy majority of seniors and tell them, in a face even straighter than theirs, that the field of college graduates wanting to be Deadheads had become so crowded that graduates now had to fill out an application form which asked them to explain, in 100 words or fewer, why they deserved to be a Deadhead.
The effect was instantaneous and far more unsettling than I had imagined. Talk about competition and the dog-eat-dog world they thought only existed on Wall Street and in corporate America. Here was a band of pot-smoking hippies who had, of all things, application forms.
What was a would-be Deadhead to say? That you had listened to all their bootleg tapes and knew all the lyrics? That you had one change of bell bottoms and only washed once a week, if then? That you really, really really wanted to be a Deadhead? No doubt some other kid, probably from the Ivies, would beat you out, just like he or she beat you out of a place at Harvard or Princeton.
I let the gloom sink in for a few weeks before I admitted that I had perpetrated a hoax on them. A couple of kids, I am told, thought about taking the matter to the Dean but then they never did. I suppose the prospect of explaining who the Grateful Dead were was just too daunting.
Flash forward to 2011 when many, far too many, graduating seniors plan on moving back to their childhood rooms and living on mom's three-squares day. This pattern has been going on for quite some time, and the recent economic downturn only exacerbates the situation. Again, what to do? My suggestion is to brush off my Grateful Dead application so that it now reads as follows: "In a 100 words, or fewer, explain why you deserve to get room-and-board in our house."
At this point let me heave in a family saga that touches on this touchy subject. When my daughter was a college senior she began collecting rejection slips from prospective employers until she had quite a stack. At some point she began thumb tacking them into a blank wall in her dorm room.
Then she wrote us a letter asking if, as our daughter, she might live at home again after graduation. I nipped that one in the bud by writing her back as follows: "Dear Ms. Pinsker: We have read your application with interest and agree that you have stellar credentials. Unfortunately, the position you want has already been filled. We will keep your letter on file and, should the situation change, we will be in touch. Respectfully yours, Your Father."
Because she grew up in a house with a father known for his wisecracks, my daughter was not surprised. Indeed, she cleared away space in the middle of her "wall of shame" and gave my letter due prominence. When visitors eyeballed the letter they were shocked and let my daughter know that she probably had the meanest father who ever lived. I should add, as a footnote, that my daughter did get a job and that she didn't return home. I consider myself an "enabler" in the best sense of the word, because I gave her a laugh and because I provided the prodding she may, or may not, have needed.
Parents of graduating seniors have my sympathy because the world that looks to be lousy for students is also lousy for their parents. If it was once hard to be a Deadhead-- at least in my fantasy -- it is now hard to snag even an unpaid internship. But all that said, nothing is impossible for the person with old-fashioned grit. Among all the things that graduates know, they need to know this.
2011, Sanford Pinsker.
Sanford Pinsker is an emeritus professor at Franklin and Marshall College. He now lives in south Florida where he thinks about weighty issues on cloudy days and occasionally reviews manuscripts for publishers.
The Irascible Professor comments: As hard-hearted as it may seem, Sanford is right. It is not a good idea for grown children who have graduated from college to return home to live.
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