Corporate Whoredom or Selfless Service?

…is the facile but succinct question that’s on a lot of college students’ minds as the real world looms on the other side of graduation.

Wesleyan is ostensibly all about being a well-rounded individual and helping out the greater world, but college is mad expensive and cashing in with high-paying jobs after graduation is not only tempting, but necessary for a lot of debt-saddled new alums.

As the NY Times noted today, the dilemma of choosing between big money and public service after graduation, or at least putting off the big money in favor of something noble for a little while, seems increasingly pronounced as Obama’s play for the White House (and our hearts and minds) grows stronger. As you might remember:

In his commencement speech last month at Wesleyan University, Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, voiced a similar theme when he sounded an impassioned call to public service, and warned that the pursuit of narrow self-interest — “the big house and the nice suits and the other things that our money culture says you should buy … betrays a poverty of ambition.”

So what’s a well-educated but financially-strapped idealist to do?

The article mentions approaches that different colleges are taking to encourage graduates along the public service path without having to worry about the finance issue. A Harvard education professor is leading seminars to light a public service fire under Ivy League asses. Amherst and UPenn are expanding public service fellowships and internships. Tufts is going to start paying off the college loans of graduates who choose public service jobs. And a lot of schools, including Wesleyan, are making great efforts to decrease the costs of higher education, so students don’t have to worry about paying off loans.

Wesleyan isn’t lacking in efforts to encourage students to pursue public service opportunities – this is clearly an issue that President Roth feels strongly about, and certainly a significant amount of Wes graduates go on to participate in nonprofit programs like Teach for America, or work in jobs related to public service.

But many are insecure enough about their financial ambitions without the additional guilt of lacking a full-time public service commitment.

The NYTimes touched on post-graduation job insecurities in another article this past weekend, about fresh college grads getting used to gainful employment, citing Kai Johnson ’08 as someone who seems to have found at least a temporary balance between public service and apprehension about the future:

Kai Johnson, 22, who graduated from Wesleyan University in May, is working at the Greater New York chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice, a nonprofit, for the summer, and will begin teaching English in France in the fall. “I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said, “although it’s hard to graduate from college and leave that behind.”

Still, his summer job is part time, so he does not feel trapped, he said, at least not yet. “I’m looking at having a couple of different careers in different areas, with a couple years of commitment,” he said. “I’m not looking to having a 30- or 40-year plan.”

So are we on the verge of a new Obama-ushered era of socially conscious graduates, sacrificing personal wealth for the greater good of society? Is public service reaching a tipping point, from being easily written off as a fringe manifestation of progressive guilt, to a universally-appealing American civic movement?

Links:
NYTimes
: Big Paycheck or Service? Students are Put to Test
NYTimes
: Land a Job, Then What? Graduates Adjust to Life With No Going Back

20 thoughts on “Corporate Whoredom or Selfless Service?

  1. Anonymous

    Yeeaaah, start a business that helps the world.Or join one. I’m doing both.Those firms are about to get really popular. I’m working in palo alto right now, and the firms that are doing work to actually help the world forge a deeper connection with their employees. The employees are also happier about their work, and thus more productive.A bond based on that will withstand a lot more than a bond based on money. As we all see with wall street, a competitive employee that is only tied to his company because of a salary will jump ship the moment he or she gets a better offer.

  2. Anonymous

    Yeeaaah, start a business that helps the world.
    Or join one. I’m doing both.
    Those firms are about to get really popular. I’m working in palo alto right now, and the firms that are doing work to actually help the world forge a deeper connection with their employees. The employees are also happier about their work, and thus more productive.
    A bond based on that will withstand a lot more than a bond based on money. As we all see with wall street, a competitive employee that is only tied to his company because of a salary will jump ship the moment he or she gets a better offer.

  3. Anonymous

    “Why sacrifice when you don’t have to? Doesn’t make you noble, it makes you stupid.”Really, 12:04 pm? Are you saying all good things in the world come because they’re part of a profit motive, or because they’re just easy to do?There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money and be financially successful, but how are you gonna say that people shouldn’t make personal sacrifices because it’s easier not to? Sometimes, people believe in something enough that they give up their own comfort in an effort to achieve it. Thinking that personal sacrifice is “stupid” is really narcissistic and narrow-minded, and if you don’t see any value in it you must be pretty cynical and/or lazy.

  4. Anonymous

    “Why sacrifice when you don’t have to? Doesn’t make you noble, it makes you stupid.”

    Really, 12:04 pm? Are you saying all good things in the world come because they’re part of a profit motive, or because they’re just easy to do?

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money and be financially successful, but how are you gonna say that people shouldn’t make personal sacrifices because it’s easier not to? Sometimes, people believe in something enough that they give up their own comfort in an effort to achieve it. Thinking that personal sacrifice is “stupid” is really narcissistic and narrow-minded, and if you don’t see any value in it you must be pretty cynical and/or lazy.

  5. Anonymous

    6:07 pm – That’s a great accomplishment for you and your employees, and you should be proud of your business. But I think what Obama, and the articles, mean is public service in terms of reaching out to people who otherwise might not have the means or abilities to be financially successful in their current circumstances. Like, if they’re poor and/or uneducated. Spreading wealth is great, but what about increasing access to it?

  6. Anonymous

    6:07 pm – That’s a great accomplishment for you and your employees, and you should be proud of your business. But I think what Obama, and the articles, mean is public service in terms of reaching out to people who otherwise might not have the means or abilities to be financially successful in their current circumstances. Like, if they’re poor and/or uneducated. Spreading wealth is great, but what about increasing access to it?

  7. Anonymous

    I started a business after graduation – make tons of money and employ 35 people with great salaries, health care, and generous benefits. I think this counts as both. Would Obama? Don’t really care.

  8. Anonymous

    I started a business after graduation – make tons of money and employ 35 people with great salaries, health care, and generous benefits. I think this counts as both. Would Obama? Don’t really care.

  9. Anonymous

    9:52 and 12:04,since you seem convinced there is a wealth of money-making-AND-world helping carees/pursuits out there, pray tell where they are?

  10. Anonymous

    9:52 and 12:04,
    since you seem convinced there is a wealth of money-making-AND-world helping carees/pursuits out there, pray tell where they are?

  11. Anonymous

    9:52 has it. Making it an either/or is stupid – there’s a lot of ways you can do both at the same time. Also, people shouldbe looked down on from some stupid moral high ground because they choose a career path that makes them lots of money.Why sacrifice when you don’t have to? Doesn’t make you noble, it makes you stupid.

  12. Anonymous

    9:52 has it. Making it an either/or is stupid – there’s a lot of ways you can do both at the same time. Also, people shouldbe looked down on from some stupid moral high ground because they choose a career path that makes them lots of money.

    Why sacrifice when you don’t have to? Doesn’t make you noble, it makes you stupid.

  13. maxliving

    Why do the public service first? Why not the other way around? Make a ton of money, pay off your college loans, and then settle into a more public service-oriented field when you’re comfortable.

  14. maxliving

    Why do the public service first? Why not the other way around? Make a ton of money, pay off your college loans, and then settle into a more public service-oriented field when you’re comfortable.

  15. Estrella

    “new Obama-ushered era of socially conscious graduates, sacrificing personal wealth for the greater good of society”I think that’s really overstating the case tremendously. I know that my desire (and that of my friends who are already working in public service) to go into public-service work predates the Obama commencement speech or even knowledge of Obama’s existence.

  16. Estrella

    “new Obama-ushered era of socially conscious graduates, sacrificing personal wealth for the greater good of society”

    I think that’s really overstating the case tremendously. I know that my desire (and that of my friends who are already working in public service) to go into public-service work predates the Obama commencement speech or even knowledge of Obama’s existence.

  17. Anonymous

    I wish this issue wasn’t one people were making into either or. There are more choices available than “help the world” or “make lots of money.”

  18. Anonymous

    I wish this issue wasn’t one people were making into either or. There are more choices available than “help the world” or “make lots of money.”

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