The New Graduates

When the Great Recession ended in June of 2009, today’s recent college grads were just about to graduate high school. They entered college knowing the realities of unemployment and a shaky economy, and that the promise of going to college and getting a job was no longer a guarantee. Six years later, these are the Millennials who are working part-time jobs, living at home and trying to find what life is like in your early 20s after the greatest economic downturn since the 1930s.

There’s no longer a clear path from a degree to a career, and for most graduates — while it can be scary — that’s OK. These are the stories of three recent graduates paving their uncertain path to their futures. These are the New Graduates.

Carly Gillum, 24. DePaul University class of 2013 graduate, bachelor’s degree in journalism and media and cinema studies. Content writer at Brafton.

Carly Gillum searched for for a little more than two years before she found her first full-time job. She graduated early from DePaul University in March 2013 and started working as a news and content writer in May.

“There were definitely ups and downs in the job hunt,” Gillum said. “I had a lot of days where I questioned my path and questioned why I chose journalism. There were definitely times when I was like, ‘I’m never going to find a job.’ ”

Gillum (left) performing with her improv group SKORT at the 48-hour Improv Festival Saturday, May 30 at the Playground Theater.
Gillum (left) performing with her improv group SKORT at the 48-hour Improv Festival Saturday, May 30 at the Playground Theater.

Until she ended up at Brafton, a content marketing agency, Gillum pieced together part-time jobs to make ends meet. She was a keyholder at a boutique in Lincoln Park, a hostess at Second City and an assistant recruiting coach at collegiate athletic recruiting agency.

“I graduated from DePaul with all of these grand, beautiful ideas of this job I was going to get,” Gillum said. “Or the dream of graduating with an internship that turns into a job.” She held three internships and worked at her university’s radio station while she was a student, but it wasn’t enough.

Working multiple jobs while trying to find full-time positions was draining on Gillum, but it eventually led to her taking up improv classes at iO, giving her a creative outlet between the 40-plus hours of work per week.

“My No. 1, overall dream would be to write for comedy,” Gillum said. There’s no better way to learn … than to learn to improvise and think on your feet.”

“I graduated from DePaul with all of these grand, beautiful ideas of this job I was going to get, or the dream of graduating with an internship that turns into a job.”

With her more regular 9-to-5 schedule now, Gillum spends more time on her writing and work with improv groups. She’s currently finishing level three, the top improv level at iO and working with an all-female group, performing more often around the city. The goal for iO graduates is to be placed on one of the Herold teams that perform as house teams at iO, but that’s not a guarantee. Forming her own team was another way Gillum tried to take her future into her own hands.

“It’s one of those things, you have to have something to do in the meantime. I wasn’t finding a full-time job so I had to find two part-time jobs, I might not get placed on a Herold team, so if I want to keep doing thins I need to make an effort to do it in another way,” Gillum said.

Though in a better place, she’s still not completely happy with where things are.

“I have a salary now, benefits and a 401k, I have everything that parents want for their child,” she said. “Do I think that I’m any happier doing it? No.”

“I was pretty confident going into (the job) that I would work for a year, put in my dues, my time, and move on.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, unemployment and underemployment rates among recent grads are improving, but they are still significantly higher than before the Great Recession. The unemployment rate is currently 8.5 percent (compared with 5.5 percent in 2007), and the underemployment rate is 16.8 percent (compared with 9.6 percent in 2007).

Tamas Vilaghy, 23. New York University class of 2014 graduate, bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and French. Metropolis barista and tutor.

IMG_7006“My dad keeps pestering me to get a job in my field,” Tamas Vilaghy said. “But I’m not even sure what my field is”

Vilaghy graduated in 2014 from New York University with a degree in comparative literature and French. He’s working at Metropolis Coffee Company in Edgewater and tutoring seventh graders for the Chicago Public Schools high school entrance exam on the side.

“I’ve been working in restaurants since 10th grade, so if we’re talking in concrete terms this is more of a career,” he said. “If I could make a living off of writing that would be great, but I don’t feel like that’s tenable right now.”

Vilaghy, originally from Hungary, grew up in upstate New York and spent four years in New York City for school save for a semester in Paris while studying abroad. Once graduation came, he was ready to leave the city.

“I wanted to get out of New York because it was so expensive,” he said. “I had friends there — I would’ve been all right looking back — but I knew I needed a change. I had enough of the college vibe and I needed a rupture to that, so that’s why I came (to Chicago).”

“My dad keeps pestering me to get a job in my field, but I’m not even sure what my field is.”

He came to Chicago to be with his girlfriend, but adjusting to a new city without a job was difficult, he said. He worked first as a dogwalker, then as a barista at Soho House. He started at Metropolis in March, and since has been happy.

For now, Vilaghy isn’t looking for a career. Working at Metropolis gives him enough money to support his other interests.

“I’m always working on other kind of stuff,” he said. “I’m doing a soundtrack for my friend’s movie, I would like to do some more freelance writing, I would like to perform my music, I would like to do some more artistic things.”

As his year anniversary of living in Chicago approaches, Vilaghy is comfortable in the life he’s living, but he said nothing is permanent.

“I don’t know if I’ll stick around here forever,” he said. “I don’t think it’s uncommon for my age group to be in transition or feel like we’re in transition for a majority of the time.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2009-13 30.3 percent of 18-34-year-olds were living at home, a 30.6 percent increase from 2000. In Illinois, the figure is slightly higher at 32.9 percent.

Emily Karnick, 23. Aurora University class of 2014, bachelor’s degree in theatre. Police dispatcher.

IMG_7983“This is probably one of the most theatrical jobs I’ve ever had in my life — there’s a lot of acting involved,” Karnick said of her role as a police dispatcher for Aurora University’s campus police. “You have to be prepared for everything to go wrong at once.”

Karnick is an Aurora University graduate, one who changed her path many times throughout her time at the university. She started in 2010 as an elementary education major, briefly changed to social work, then arrived on criminal justice.

“For a lot of the classes you’re required to go on a ride along, and every time (the police officers) told me to change my major to something else so I could do something else,” she said. At the time she was in a play and loved it, so she made the switch and eventually earned her B.A. in theatre.

For the past four months, Karnick has been living at home with her parents in Crystal Lake, a 40-minute drive from her work in Aurora.

“It sucks living at home, especially when I was on midnights,” Karnick said. For the first six months as a dispatcher, she had to work the midnight shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. “It was so bright everywhere, people would be talking, my brother would be making smoothies, and I’d be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s hard when you’re living with people that don’t work on that shift basis.”

Karnick lives “part-time” as she describes it with her girlfriend, Emily Beck. Beck works as a police office on Aurora’s campus and shares a similar work schedule.

Karnick with her girlfriend, Emily Beck, and Beck’s dog, Trigger.

While Karnick still falls into the more than 30 percent of Millennials who live at home, she’s setting her sights on the future. She’s currently interviewing at dispatch agencies where, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary is around $46,000 in Kane County.

“I want to buy a house and I want to get myself in a stable career position,” she said. “Once I start at a dispatch agency you’re working toward a pension, so I want to get that settled, and then buy a house in the next year.”

Gillum, Vilaghy and Karnick’s stories aren’t unique or special, they’re the new normal of what it means to navigate life after college. There’s no predestined path, no absolute plan, no right way to make it work.

These are the new graduates, and, though they didn’t expect it, these are their futures. This is the future.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent work, Courtney. A really solid piece of reporting.

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