By:Rob Hardy

The latest issue of Macleans magazine came right on the heels of festivities welcoming frosh and returning students back to university campuses across the country. Making it the cover story for its September 10 issue, “The Broken Generation” looks at the fallout of accumulating social and economic pressures along both sides of the border. As it examines how the youth of today have internalized the crises facing them, it explores both depression and suicide with candor. What further makes this story notable is that its detective work also included a stop right here at McMaster.

First of all, Macleans should be applauded for digging deep. As a youngster, you might have begrudgingly been exposed to this magazine in doctors’ offices when no other options were on hand.  As a mature adult, however, Macleans really is one of the most trustworthy publications in Canada, and is about as hard-hitting as the mainstream media gets. This article stays true to such mantra, deftly illustrating both the hope of overcoming mental illness while discussing why the generation currently in their twenties are in such a quandary.

That being said, I did have some problems with the way this feature story was framed. For one thing, it seems to freely use the word “student” as a synonym for youth in general, whereas I would suggest that these problems are largely typical of young people regardless of whether they are or ever were specifically enrolled in higher education. Since easily more than half of Canada’s young adults have at one point been college or university students, finding our way in the world seems to be the larger theme in question here.

Therefore, though some state that they’re worried about their grades, that in itself is not an existential academic crisis, specific, of course, to the studies undertaken. Grades focus on numeric categorization relative to others with whom they are competing.  One student talks of stressing over marks in order to get into teachers college, and others talk of “improving academic performance,” both of which highlight a scramble to beat out their peers in a game of musical chairs, all the while evidently lacking a passion for both the academic work itself, as well as a higher discovery of self-purpose.

What the article does not cover, however, is where these students find themselves after overcoming their depression fueled by this academic struggle. Since we are told that the more ambitious youth of today, as cited herein, are mostly suffering not from some sort of inferiority complex but from a genuine hopelessness due to a bleak future, then it should be clear that the cause of their malaise still exists. Saddled with student debt, an increasingly tight job market and a general lack of opportunities befitting grads entering the workforce, the situation is indeed depressing, yet something that one should not take personally.

Our universities have definitely reached a saturation point in turning out graduates because even though most decent employment opportunities (and some less so) require a degree, the job market has not caught up with creating this kind of job for everyone holding a BA. Therefore, the pressure increases as everyone scrambles to build a resumé with various experiences, which are also competitive, as even unpaid internships are not possible for everyone seeking one.

We have to look at the bigger picture here. Is the student who is sweating over their grades rather than the content of their reading lists, really going to be happy even if they get their spot in teachers college? Is the scarcity sweeping over the job market not going to matter to them so long as “they got theirs”? Do they think material fulfillment will somehow shield them from seeing and caring about those who didn’t make it, even though said student could easily have also missed their chance? Or do we actually really not want to confront these questions because they are too uncomfortable?

 

The Macleans feature might invite some comparison to the student strikes in Quebec, where peers mobilized as a group to defend their interests in a more active way as they, too, saw their way of life changing before their eyes. One must understand that a resumé exists to demonstrate our ability to do a job, not as something that needs to justify our right to even hold one and earn a living. Consider this: it is more necessary than ever to gain control of your life, purge all that is extraneous and find a way to battle your way to the top without forgetting all those in our communities who are getting caught up in (or under) unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies and other economic calamities coming at us from all sides.  Though this is not a solution either, by fostering the right attitude, with support if need be, we can bravely face life and hope to persevere against its uncertainties, whatever they may be.

 

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