To the Graduating Class of 2020, From the Class of 2008

Approximately three years ago, I decided to begin my 2nd master’s degree, I thought, why not? I’ll learn more and maybe at the end of all this get a better job and with the benefits from my work the degree was for the most part, paid for.

I finished my undergraduate degree in 2008, during the great recession. I decided against working in politics (I was burnt out) and decided I wanted to work locally and give back to my community.

These were trying times, but I luckily got a job swiftly. I went to work doing AmeriCorps*VISTA in Boston, MA. I found the work to be enlightening, challenging, and well, I also felt poor, and I was on food stamps because I barely made any money, but hey I loved the work. Then In 2011, I finished my master’s degree at GW, and finally found work that I felt matched my ambition and knowledge, but to be honest, I was still underpaid.

When I began working again in higher education in IT I thought, after 5 years I was finally making what I hoped to make. I enrolled in an MBA program, hoping I would gain some knowledge and some valuable skills and maybe, just maybe enhance my opportunities.

Then came COVID-19. My graduation ceremony was canceled. Thankfully for me, I still am employed and am still hoping to take two more classes this summer when I’m actually supposed to finish, and maybe I’ll graduate with some fellow friends in person in 2021. Maybe those plans might be put on hold for more time for various unpredictable reasons. I’m just going to go with the flow. It’s all I can do.

For us Millenials time marched on, and sometimes opportunity may have felt as though it has left us behind. I’m not sad about it though, because I’ve been challenged. I’ve worked hard, and I still believe that when the time comes someone might appreciate my hard work and skills and say “gosh darn it, isn’t she a gem?”. I also just say, man, do I have the best timing for all of my degrees? Yes, yes I do.

I remain hopeful for the future, because what else can I hope for? I wanted to have some friends and myself pass on some advice and knowledge from the class of 2008 (and a few other classes), to the class of 2020. I have graduated during both of these challenging times, and I understand you the class of 2020, I really do.

The thoughts from friends were shared with me via social media and I wanted to share them all with you. Because gosh knows the class of 2008 probably has better advice than whatever commencement speaker you were going to have (apologies to the commencement speakers, who also graduated in 2008, BUMMER is what I say to you).

Thank you to my friends, near and far for sharing your experiences.

Without further ado:


My advice, consider doing AmeriCorps, you’ll get experience, get to do some really cool work, get paid not much at all, but hopefully gain the experience you need for work. 2. Avoid grad school for a bit unless you really, really know what you love studying or if it’s required for your field. Go for a fellowship if possible and get it paid for if at all possible.
Also experiment – I worked part-time retail at an independent shop (I realized I loved people in this job and working with them brought meaning and joy to my life, even if I wasn’t doing what I had planned), had three internships, worked work-study in grad school in the years following. During this time I figured out what I liked and what I wanted in a workplace, because I jam-packed my experiences into a few years.


I graduated in 2010. Was planning on going to grad school, and then I watched the economy burn down. Scrapped My Entire Career Plan, focused on industries where my resume suggested I could find entry-level work, and took it from there. Bumpy road. Weird road. But a decent one

I think my best advice is be honest about what skills you can contribute to the world, and be creative about how you can contribute them.


Gain skills and connections. Knowledge is important, but knowing how to use it is better. Being able to reach out to people who you rely on to give good advice is helpful more than anything.

Read read read, and get out of any information bubble you live in. If you don’t hear ideas that contrast with what you think, then you are in a bubble.

Don’t get a PhD in the Humanities. It was a bad idea 10 years ago, it has been a bad idea, it will be an even worse idea in the future. Unless you are in a unique spot of wealth, connections, or ability.


Everything and everyone in the world is connected. When you fail to achieve the success that you want right away – and you most likely will, unless you’re incredibly lucky or incredibly well-connected – you will be tempted to blame yourself. You will wonder where you went wrong. Did you not hustle enough? Did you fail to have a truly success-minded attitude? What are the magical steps that you can take to turn everything around? The entire self-help industry will try to tell you that all of this is possible, but it is not.

There is no amount of hustling that can make it 1997 again. The people who get to where they want to be right away are, as I said earlier, incredibly lucky or incredibly well-connected. The rest of us have to get there the hard, long, and poor way – if we get there at all. It takes time, and hard work, and success is never guaranteed.

Let yourself off the hook. Let yourself be frustrated, but don’t get consumed in guilt, self-flagellation, or bitter jealousy over those who had an easier path. The world screwed you over, just like it screwed us over, and it will continue to screw over every new generation as long as we continue to let income inequality widen and the richest folks pull up the ladders behind them. You cannot blame yourself for being born into this system any more than you can blame previous generations of non-elites for the circumstances of their birth.

Work hard, but don’t live to work. Your employers probably won’t care about you, especially early on. Show them what you can do, but don’t get trapped in cycles of abuse. Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to bail on the stuff you learned or “always told yourself you wanted to do” if you end up enjoying some other kind of work. Take risks – they get harder to take as you age. Connect with people – friendships are harder to make as you get older, too, and your friends are right in it with you. Your circumstances may be shitty, but getting drinks or coffee with friends as you talk about how unfathomably screwed you all are is still wonderful.

Eventually, things will get better. You will end up in better positions, with more stable careers. You will come to know yourself better, too, and will develop the ability to better tell the difference between what you need vs. what you tell yourself you need. But it will be slow and unfair for most of you, like it was for most of us. Never forget that, especially if you do end up in a position of real power someday.


Literally everything you’ve ever done goes on your resume. Spin things. You babysat? You worked in childcare. Don’t outright lie, but pump up what you did. A job asks for 5 years experience? You have probably 5 cumulative years between part time jobs and internships and side gigs and that one time you helped your buddy with a website.
You will be behind in earnings for a while. A long while, unfortunately. Keep picking up skills and stuff for your portfolio, don’t quit your side-hustle, and always–ALWAYS–get metrics on any work you do so you can be specific and show not just what you’ve done throughout your career, but the results it got.


A lot of the above, but also: don’t knock LinkedIn. It can actually be super helpful and lead to direct job/interviews offers.


I really agree about some sort of service-learning opportunity. There are so many now! AmeriCorps, a bunch of churches do them (you don’t have to be churchy – I recommend the Quaker one!), or one of the outdoor work-in-the woods ones. Or teach abroad. I’d also recommend living as cheaply as possible with as many people as possible! It’s a great thing to do and learn about yourself and others in your early 20s.


Graduated into a different rocky job market, but: get comfortable talking with your friends and coworkers about salaries. Your boss knows everyone’s pay.


You got nothing to lose, so apply for anything and everything that interests you and for things you are super serious about- don’t give up. Go on linkedin- find people who work at the places you are interested in. See if you can get an in, maybe do a post-graduation internship which will allow you to prove yourself and then they hire you. If you have some extra money and want to live in a city- maybe try buying a place there. It seems crazy, but now I wish I had just bought something when I moved to SF in 2008. There is lots of assistance for 1st time buyers and the recession was when it was the most affordable in the 9 years I lived there. Also- if you don’t want to move home with your parents- then don’t and do whatever you have to do to make it work. I did so many odd jobs outside my year long fellowship so I could live independently. It will be okay. promise!

Shawn Elise

Travel, Volunteer, Learn some SKILLS, with your Hands maybe. Not everything you learn needs to be relevant to your “career path.”
Your career path will probably change. Welcome that.
Don’t compare yourselves to what your peers are doing on social media. Everyone operates at different paces and most ppl are only sharing their successes on their feeds.
Lots of people will live with their parents in their 20s and 30s. It’s not a failure to do this but an opportunity to get to know them or the place you grew up in a new way. It will also save you hella money, so if you can tolerate it, do it. If that seems hellish to you and you have no options, work on your escape plan.
Apply for anything that catches your interest. You can always say No once you are given an offer.
This is the time, in your 20s, to be poor, reckless, wild, and free. Make some mistakes! Think about what it might feel like to turn 50 and wish you had done xyz while you were young, single, strong, healthy, etc. Then do xyz.