Over the break I had dinner with one of those people that give off the overwhelming impression that they are going to achieve more than you in later life. It was horrible. Not because I lie awake at night, relegated to insomnia from the thought of someone beating me at the game of life. Rather because rarely is it so blatantly obvious who those people are going to be. Thankfully, life likes to throw us these little curve balls that leave even the smartest kid in class struggling to pay for his second divorce while starting his imminent redundancy package straight in the face.
Events well beyond our own con- trol tend to level the playing field. They also offer a means of fanciful justice. Whenever someone I dislike insists on slipping into the conversation the latest from their ever growing list of achievements, I like to think of one of these curveballs knocking them flat on their arse. Now I’m not saying I walk away from such conversations imaging every variation of AIDs they could contract, I’m simply saying it makes me feel a lot better knowing that at some point in the future, life will not go their way.
Anyway, the person I was having dinner with was one of those family friends who you are thrown together with as a child because your parents decided that the two of you should be friends. Apparently if you insist on spending eight hours a day rear- ranging your Thomas the Tank Engine collection with a rigidity that smacks of autism, you should at least be doing it in the company of other children. He had recently graduated from Oxford with a first class degree in economics and had since begun a Masters at LSE. Already impressed by his golden education, I wrongly decided to ask him about his career prospects.
“So do you have a grad job lined up?”
“No, I have two.”
This is where my thoughts began to drift towards variations of contractible AIDs but even this guilty pleasure couldn’t last long. The bastard was just too charming. He told me witty anecdotes about his days at Oxford and pretended not to be bored when I sheepishly offered my own from our auld grey toon. I could feel my- self falling under the same spell his prospective employers clearly had. I wanted to employ him.
After dinner I was shattered. I felt like I had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. This is the kind of competition we are up against as graduates. Erudite, intelligent, good looking young men and women with degrees coming out of their arses faster than last night’s doner comes out of ours. Those are exactly the type of crude jokes that mean I won’t get a second interview while my competition strolls into the career of his dreams, starting at a cool 40k a year.
The more I thought about it the scarier it seemed. We are constantly reminded of how difficult it is these days for university leavers to get the jobs they were after and how the value of our degrees is diminishing by the day. While the University’s marketing team like to tell the fee paying parents of would-be students just how exclusive and sought after a St Andrews education is, is this really the case? Yes, our education might put us into the upper percentiles of the global employment market, but that just means we’re better than those people a few percentiles lower than us at getting jobs none of us really want anyway. Too many years of being told how exclusive we are has left us unwilling to settle for anything less than the Bud Fox lifestyle of cocaine and limousines.
The worst part of it all is how ruthless we seem to have become in our efforts to get the edge over our peers. Sad as it seems, at universities across the country it is not unheard of for wannabe hacks to have sold student scandals to the national press in return for the assurance that their name will be remembered. Who is to say the same sort of behaviour isn’t going on under the carpet at our own university?
It took less than a day for a video of a bunch of freshers pouring cava over their heads to reach the front page of the Daily Star. Would it really come as a surprise to any of us if it came to light that this was the result of an overzealous student journo and their bid to get a job come graduation? The same sort of cutthroat behaviour can be seen dur- ing exams. I can’t tell you how many people I know who will readily admit to taking the extra 25% time allowance afforded to them when they know they don’t warrant it. Every- one is well aware that in America, Adderall is prescribed like it’s go- ing out of fashion by trigger-happy doctors who diagnose little Hunter/ Walker/Parker with ADHD simply because they can’t concentrate for three hours at a time. Is it fair that where you went to the doctor’s as a child could be the difference between a first class degree and a 2:1?
Whenever I’ve questioned the morality of their decision I always get the same response. Talk of “playing the game” and “manipulating the system” is used to justify their undeserved advantage. After all, there are no pictures on a scorecard and employers won’t know whether you got your first from hard work or from having an extra forty minutes to write your exam.
The sad truth is that as this sort of behaviour becomes the norm, the question we must ask ourselves is not whether or not this is fair, but rather how we can best get a quick advantage ourselves. It’s time to get thinking.