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The credentials generation

Lance Gallop | Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It is official. Spring break has come to a close, and from somewhere deep within the collective weariness of the campus mind, synapses, long dormant, are beginning to fire. There is a growing tension about some people, even a kind of dread. There is a wild rush to get engaged, and small mammals have started fleeing to the hinterland. All of the signs are here: graduation is coming.

I must admit that I am more than a little apprehensive about the whole business. Life after college is famously rough. Still, I suspect that fear and doubt – playing off of each other – are perfectly normal. No matter how often someone mouths the phrase “Notre Dame bubble” it never prepares one for the ice water of a normal and productive (read: savage) life. It also does not help maters that by now, many of us have a nice chunk of debt to force the issue.

But for me at least, there is something more at the root of all this tension. Very soon, I shall be beyond the point of no return, and the preparations I have made for the future will become my reality. Have I done right? What of the choices that I made when I did not realize that they were lasting choices? And more over, how I am expected to make any choices at all, when I am still not even sure what it is that I want out of life?

I am not alone. We have become what some call the credentials generation. The perfect internship; the right mix of study, service, and work; law schools; MCATs; the perfect job; a power resume; a promotion; those key contacts; and do not forget the Notre Dame diploma. All of these are ground together and sifted over our heads in the hope that we might finally locate the credentials that will complete us as persons. They focus our minds on the present, and shield us from the uncertainties in our futures and in ourselves.

But in truth, a diploma just labels me as an ex-student. And no amount of credentials will ever protect or console me from weariness or pain. For, if I am honest with myself, I know that none of these things will ever give me any sort of happiness, and it is this truth that I fear most of all.

That is really the essence of the problem. Does a career, a diploma, have anything at all to do with my happiness? What have I thrown away for the sake of that career, and what will I lose forever if I continue down this road? Maybe my happiness was among those things that I sacrificed. I worry that I have sold out to someone else’s ideal, someone else’s truth, and someone else’s happiness. Maybe I should have been a farmer, like my great-grandfather, or a teacher like his father-in-law. Maybe I should have followed my friends to DaLian, or Ouagadougou, or to a Chilean seminary.

I am envious of those with a greater sense of purpose than I, those who can become doctors (and dentists), teachers, preachers and scholars out of a sense of duty and love. I am not sure if there is even a god of computer programmers, or whether all that we do is just human contrivance, politics and business. Perhaps following this path will just inevitably take me farther and farther away from what it is that I truly need and want.

None of this thinking puts a stop to graduation of course, nor should it. But it does give it a sense of greater urgency and of deeper importance. I have many difficult choices to make, as do all the members of the credentials generation. Those choices will ultimately lead to happiness or to an illusion of it. Time will tell if we choose correctly.

Lance Gallop is a fifth-year senior majoring in computer science, philosophy and theology. For those who are curious, he is a neo-Platonist and a Thomist. He can be contacted at lgallop@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.