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College grads, maximize your 20s before it's too late

May 23, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier

I have a particular -- er, peculiar? -- passion for commencement speeches. When Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick spoke at my bother's graduation a few years ago, I was re-energized for months, and now I seek out notable commencement speeches on YouTube whenever I need a pick-me-up.

But what’s the point of inspirational speeches for grads who’re entering a dismal job market, many of them also weighed down with significant debt?

David Horsey’s latest cartoon shines a harsh light on today’s depressing reality. In an accompanying piece, he argues that it’s time to make a proactive change.  

In a country that claims to care about its children and operates on the premise that things should get better for every generation, we are not doing well.

Colleges need to do more than grind out grads while reaping ever-more-outrageous tuition fees. They need to prove the diploma is worth the price by providing transitional programs into the working world. And America’s employers, instead of sitting on their profits and failing to offer more than a few unpaid internships, need to provide additional training when necessary and a real living wage, which is always necessary. Mostly, they need to show faith in the future and start hiring.

Grads also have to take action. In a TED Talk that should be played at all college graduations, Dr. Meg Jay serves up a reality check to twentysomethings who think they may have a decade to live a little and make mistakes before thinking seriously about careers, spouses and kids. Not so, says the clinical psychologist. In the talk, posted online earlier this month, she says:   

I specialize in twentysomethings because I believe that every single one of those 50 million twentysomethings deserves to know what psychologists, sociologists, neurologists and fertility specialists already know: that claiming your 20s is one of the simplest, yet most transformative, things you can do for work, for love, for your happiness, maybe even for the world.

This is not my opinion. These are the facts. We know that 80 percent of life's most defining moments take place by age 35. That means that eight out of 10 of the decisions and experiences and “Aha!” moments that make your life what it is will have happened by your mid-30s. […] We know that the first 10 years of a career has an exponential impact on how much money you're going to earn. We know that more than half of Americans are married or are living with or dating their future partner by 30. We know that the brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it rewires itself for adulthood, which means that whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the time to change it. We know that personality changes more during your 20s than at any other time in life, and we know that female fertility peaks at age 28, and things get tricky after age 35. […]

Leonard Bernstein said that to achieve great things, you need a plan and not quite enough time. Isn't that true? So what do you think happens when you pat a twentysomething on the head and you say, "You have 10 extra years to start your life"? Nothing happens. You have robbed that person of his urgency and ambition, and absolutely nothing happens.

You can watch Jay’s speech in full above. And if that doesn’t do enough to shock you into a state of urgency, here’s an Op-Ed she wrote for our Opinion pages last May: “College grads, 30 isn't the new 20.”

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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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