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Of Pink Floyd and Taking Time Off After College

What are you doing after college? That's the question that University of Virginia English Professor Mark Edmundson asks twice in an Op-Ed from yesterday's New York Times—and it's no doubt a question the class of 2010 is inundated with these days.

Edmundson recalls his graduation from Bennington College in 1974, when he asked his peers what they were doing after college. In response he heard: "not very much, just kick back, hang out, look things over, take it slow." In reality, apparently, these were precocious young adults who were on their way to various graduate schools and internships that would serve as stepping stones to high-powered careers.

For his part, Edmundson chose a different path: doing nothing. Though, from the list of jobs he had over a five-year period, from cab driver to movie theater manager, it doesn't sound a lot like nothing—maybe just non-goal-oriented. (At least, that's my assessment, as a guy who spent the first few months after college sleeping well into the afternoon, checking CDs out from my local library and ripping them to my computer, and receiving some of the coldest glares on record from my father.)

Among the jobs that Edmunson held down during his time of taking it slow was a member of a stage crew at a concert production company. That's where Pink Floyd comes in to this story. (I'll suggest you click through to the op-ed for the full anecdote.)

Today, as Edmundson prepares to send another class of graduates into the world, he asks the same question of his students about their post-collegiate plans.

They aren’t inclined to dissimulate now. The culture is on their side when they tell me about law school and medical school and higher degrees in journalism and business; or when they talk about a research grant in China or a well-paying gig teaching English in Japan.

Times are different now. I am not sure you could have a series of odd jobs for five years and still get into an English PhD program at Yale (as Edmundson did). I could see taking a year off, maybe even two. The classic, post-college road trip or European vacation certainly doesn't hurt. But, in today's world, is Edmundson's path reasonably reproducible?

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