Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Staring at the Ceiling Fan

I'm sullen, confused, depressed. My normally cheerful outlook on life has been dragged through the depths of despair. All of the poisons that have lurked in the mud for millenia... well... never mind.

Every once in awhile I see, hear or read something that makes me want to go straight to the nearest cliff and throw myself to the mercy of gravity.

That was my reaction recently when I happened upon this essay written by a young gentleman, Ken Ilgunas, from Niagara Falls and published in the Buffalo News. The whining ruminations of Mr. Ilgunas are reproduced below in Bolshevic red.

I am 24, live with my parents, can’t find work and am floundering in a sea of debt five figures high. I think of myself as ambitious, independent and hardworking. Now I’m dependent, unemployed and sleeping under the same Super Mario ceiling fan that I did when I was 7.

How did this happen? I did what every upstanding citizen is supposed to do. I went to college. I took out loans so I could enroll at Alfred University, a pricey private school. The next year, I transferred to the more finance-friendly University at Buffalo, where I could commute from home and push carts part-time at Home Depot.

I related my forthcoming debt to puberty or a midlife crisis — each an unavoidable nuisance; tickets required upon admission to the next stage of adulthood. But as interest rates climbed and the cost of tuition, books and daily living mounted to galactic proportions,

I realized this was more than some paltry inconvenience.

Upon graduating, I was helplessly launched headfirst into the “real world,” equipped with a degree in history and $32,000 in student loans. Before ricocheting back home, I would learn two important lessons: 1) There are no well-paying — let alone paying — jobs for history majors. 2) The real world is really tough.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and I had no intention of living in a society that was as unfair as this one. To seek a haven devoid of the ruthless 9-to-5 ebb and flow of contemporary America, I moved to Alaska.

As a liberal arts major, I dreamed of making a profound difference in people’s lives. Instead, for a year, I lived in Coldfoot, a town north of the Arctic Circle that resembles a Soviet Gulag camp. My job as a tour guide for visitors temporarily alleviated my money woes because it provided room and board, but when the season ended and I moved back home, I was again confronted with the grim realities of debt.

Desperate, I browsed through insurance and bank job descriptions. I had hit an all-time low. Could I surrender my soul for health coverage and a steady income? Could I sacrifice my ideals by falling into line?

Suddenly, living at home didn’t seem nearly as degrading as selling out. But sadly, other graduates don’t have any choice but to work for temp agencies and retail stores to eke by.

That’s the tragedy of student debt: it doesn’t just limit what we do, but who we become. Forget volunteering. Forget traveling. Forget trying to improve your country, or yourself. You’ve got bills to pay, young man.

Unfortunately, the recent passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act doesn’t portend that times are a-changin’. The act reduces interest rates on Stafford Loans and increases Pell Grant awards. Whoopty-do.

There’s no question that this is a step forward. But we’re still talking pennies and nickels when we need to completely revolutionize the government’s role in financing post-secondary education.

College is a wonderful experience and something every young citizen should pursue. But without help, a college education is becoming an unaffordable rite of passage and a privilege of the affluent.

My loan payments can’t wait much longer, and soon I must leave home to find work that doesn’t compromise my integrity. Although I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had declared as an accounting major and got a cushy job punching numbers somewhere, I’ll take my history major, my debt and my mom’s cooking any day of the week.


Being a heartless windbag I'm probably the last person who should be commenting on this doofus' ramblings, but I can't help myself.

HEY MR. ILGUNAS... A COLLEGE DEGREE DOES NOT GUARANTEE A LIFETIME OF COMFORTABLE, RESPONSIBILITY-FREE ADOLESCENCE!

Wanna travel? Get a job.

Wanna help your fellow man? Earn your own way and set a good example.

Wanna get out of the basement?

Stand on your own two feet and quit the whining and self pity.

America's future? I hope not.

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