A few thoughts about Armstrong’s winter graduation

Armstrong Atlantic State University’s winter graduation this morning was filled with emotion — as it always is. I don’t rhapsodize enough about Armstrong, which I think remains largely under-appreciated by the average Savannahian.

Knowing so many of today’s graduates, I was struck by the diversity of their life stories, especially the serpentine educational paths taken by the students who are also parents — a young woman from Puerto Rico, another from Haiti, a grandmother who works fulltime and first enrolled at Armstrong more than a quarter-century ago, a young married man who logs long hours in his job near Hilton Head.

I could go on and on.

The address by Willis J. Potts, Jr. — a member of the Board of Regents — hit a lot of different notes, but I was most struck by his emphasis on the growing importance of the prefix “multi”: multitasking, multicultural, multimedia.

Academia will continue — as it should — to push students to dig deep into specific fields of study, but tomorrow’s workers are more likely to thrive if they embrace breadth too. I teach a couple of the upper level journalism courses at Armstrong, and I keep hammering home the need for journalists of the future to have a plethora of skills that previous generations did not require for success.

There’s better news out there for this year’s graduates than for those in recent years, especially since the job market is unquestionably improving.

And consider this graph from Calculated Risk for unemployment by educational attainment, through October:

I’m not suggesting that things are easy for today’s graduates, but more than 96 percent of Americans over 25 who have at least a bachelor’s degree and want to work are employed. They may not have their dream jobs — they may not have anything close. But it’s pretty clear where the opportunities lie.

One could argue that it’s the motivated people who get college degrees — and that same motivation would lead them to find work even without the degree. And one could obviously point out endless examples of individuals who are thriving without degrees.

But, again, the general trends are pretty obvious.

Consider also that Americans over 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher have a workforce participation rate of 75.5 percent. Those with some college or an associate degree have a participation rate of 68.5 percent. The number tumbles to 59.5 percent for high school graduates and to 45.2 percent for those who didn’t finish high school and didn’t a GED.

It’s worth adding that college offers far more than these numbers indicate. Armstrong and other institutions give students endless opportunities for growth. Lives are made richer by campus experiences.

Congratulations to all.