Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Graduate

Woo!Peter Boothe

A few weeks ago, NYU seniors from Avenue D to West Fourth Street washed their greasy hair and used their parents’ credit cards to buy something nice-looking for the penultimate of college events — graduation. For what seemed like way too many days I stood in line behind glossy moms in white ankle pants at H&M, mingled with round, red-faced Dads on the F train, and dodged double decker tour buses barreling through my streets, working overtime to accommodate all of the neglected aunts and uncles.

I wanted to run and hide, not because I was jealous of all the checks being picked up by parents at Mercadito, nor because those parents then gave their little graduates some “beer money” before they stepped into a cab to retire to their Times Square hotel. Not even because I’m scared of other people’s grandmas (which I am).

No, I wanted to get the hell out of the East Village during those days because from what I could see, all parties involved with the occasion seemed extremely unhappy and unhopeful, both for their own futures and for the futures of everyone around them. Yes, even commencement speaker Bill Clinton.

It reminded me of the misery of my own college graduation. My Dad cried, which I thought was sweet, but my mother assured me he was having a reaction to looking at his bank account. Last week, when I saw a silver-haired man in a Pebble Beach baseball cap painfully clutching the brunch menu while waiting in a throng of other silver-haired men outside of Peels, I assumed it was a similar situation.

The man can speak well.Peter Boothe Commencement speaker Bill Clinton.

My Dad also cried on our cab ride to the airport where we would board a plane home so I could move back in. I understood, therefore, why the tension in the neighborhood was thicker than the seitan steak that so many parents were forced to eat at Angelika’s Kitchen.

When I spoke at my high school graduation — because I was incredibly popular, not because I was valedictorian — I announced that graduating from high school was a very, very big achievement and that not only my parents, not only our football coaches and Spanish tutors, but everyone in that football stadium was proud of us. We did it, class of 2005. I had never been more full of hope and happiness, or more ready to show the world my greatness.

College graduation did not feel this way. Instead of speeches of hope and inspiration, my commencement speaker spoke of the desensitization of today’s youth and of people who spend too much money on coffee. Everyone’s parents cried, not because they were proud but because their children were going to use their degrees to become unpaid interns for someone who owed them a favor. People pretended to be impressed with graduates who said they were spending the next few months teaching English in a country that doesn’t speak English.

It’s hard not to feel bad for the new crop of NYU grads. On a large white screen in a classroom somewhere near Union Square, an assistant professor had doubtless showed my senior picture while telling students the story of a girl who interviewed well and had a great resumé but thanks to the economy was currently working in a carnival-themed nightclub until her loan for grad school was approved.

In dorms, the children asked each other “what’s the point?” and in their anger, became vegans and lay in the grass in Tompkins Square Park until someone told them that it was 2011 and they better go get their heads measured.

All those miserable grads I saw the other week now know that no one is going to read their thesis. They know that they should only be looking for jobs with “assistant” and “junior assistant” in the title. They may not have applied for any carnival-themed bar jobs yet, but they will, and will be very upset when they don’t get them.

Cheering the processionPeter Boothe The author offers her sympathies.

If I had to give a commencement speech to this year’s graduating class, I would forgive them for crowding my deli and eating all the salty snacks and energy drinks during their finals week. I would also forgive them for taking off their high heels and walking along Avenue B eating pizza, even though that’s incredibly gross. I would also forgive them for making my rent go up, which I can’t really blame them for, but makes me feel better anyway.

I would forgive them especially because I know the months ahead are going to be hard, serving me drinks at bars and scrubbing my puke off of the chipped wood. I would forgive them because, although they are telling the world to be ready for their greatness, we will all just continue to eat our seitan and not notice them.

Above all, I would forgive them because they are my interns. Congratulations Class of 2011.