Campus Buzz — 18 years later

by Mike McQuillan

Campus Buzz — 18 years later

By Mike McQuillan

This is a follow-up to a column that I wrote for a local newspaper back in 2006. Each college in the area had a student-authored column in the Buzz, except for SUNY Cortland. I picked up the mantle for a semester, culminating with this announcement of my candidacy for President of the United States. I didn’t see much professional hope tied to my degree at the time. Has my attitude changed? People have encouraged me to write a follow-up, so here goes.

Click the picture to enlarge and read the article.

A few weeks after the column was printed, somebody recognized me at an establishment in downtown Cortland. He asked me, “Did you ever get a job?” I was proud to announce that I had just taken a position at a bank, in a paid training program to become a select banker. It was still too soon to know that I was about to experience the worst job that I’ve ever had, even to this day.

Since the day I left the bank after a few months of professional misery, I have never held a full-time job that required a college degree. A year later while working in a gym, another trainer said, “So you went to college for nothin’.” If nothing else, I went to college for the letter G at the end of “nothing,” but he had a point.

In the years since, I have fantasized about crashing an event in the auditorium in the Old Main building and proclaiming, "My education never produced a single marketable job skill. A degree from this college is not worth the paper it's printed on!" But then what?

Do I regret my college education? Absolutely not! I always say that my education is priceless, but my degrees are useless. My education never landed me another job, but it earned me more respect and credibility to do the jobs that I have gotten. 

My new visionary speech is for graduates. "Welcome to the most confusing time of your life. You can expect to leave here with more questions than answers. The good news is that as a college graduate, you're smart enough to figure it out." You need an education to know what to do with your education.

Getting a bachelor’s was a long run on the hamster wheel. It took six years to finish, including a year off, two transfers, and a move across the country. Grad school was much better. My master’s degree is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I wrapped that baby up in only 16 months.

Does this sound like you?

Any children that were conceived via the passion spurred on by my Buzz article are now finishing up their junior year in high school. If you are one of those people, listen up! I wish you the best, but I have no opinion over what is best for you. Whatever you do next, whether or not you decide on college full-time, you are responsible for your own professional development.

A college education will teach you to challenge your own thinking, see the world through a wider lens, find a deeper truth in what you learn, and to communicate at a higher intellect. Outside the walls of academia, companies don't hire professional philosophers. It's not enough to drink and know things.

College professors have been secure in their jobs for a long time. They don't know your struggles in the job search, they usually don't care, and in some cases you'll see activist faculty fight to keep job opportunities off of campus. Career advisors are usually no better. You have to take initiative and build your own professional skills. Do not isolate yourself in academia for four years and expect a rewarding career waiting for you at the other end. 

Then again, if you’re anything like I was at your age, you don’t need to be told that higher education has its limits.

My true story

By the time I got to SUNY Cortland, I already knew the awful truth that nothing is automatic, no matter how hard you work. Get out your hanky and brace yourself for a series of sob stories.

I joined the Marines after high school, thinking that as long as I worked hard, my future was paved for me. They accepted me into their military journalism program to serve as a combat correspondent. I expected to travel the world as a warrior poet, running toward the conflict and telling the story after I fought the good fight. Then they stationed me at a small supply depot in the Mojave Desert where I spent most of my time fighting to stay awake.

Next stop was Alaska. Wild adventures, paid education, and civilian clothes. Then I found out that the journalism department wouldn’t accept my transfer credits from the Marines. I had two options. Start over or switch majors.

I chose option C – drop out.

A year of working in retail gave me the motivation to go back to school and put in a real effort. I moved back to New York and graduated from Cortland with honors. And I got to write a bi-weekly column in the local paper. Now you know why I was so resigned yet still optimistic.

After the false start at the bank, I started over at the gym, one client at a time, one hour at a time. Personal training led to me teaching the certification course at a career institute. That was when I fell in love with teaching. Four months later I was at the airport for my first trip to Peru, ready to take a methodology course for English as a Foreign Language.

Back to the states for a more lucrative personal training job and a master’s in guidance counseling. Then I moved to a country where that field doesn’t exist. (Just when I thought I was out, she pulled me back in!) Luckily they do have a demand for learning English. Once they saw a blue-eyed gringo like me immerse in the culture the way I have, this country became my oyster.

Did my college education bring me to Lake Titicaca? Yes and no.

Happily ever after?

I have lived and taught in three different provinces in Peru. I have hiked to the bottom of the world’s deepest navigable canyon, ridden on horseback to the Incan Temple of the Moon, and celebrated my birthday in a boat ride on the Amazon. And ... a few hours after the above photo was taken, I met my wife.

Best of all, my life as an ex-pat gives me an alibi for not following through on that whole president thing that I talked about back in 2006. The job looked a whole lot easier back then. Peru has seen seven presidents in the past 10 years, so who knows? Maybe I'll take the office by default.

Today I freelance as a certified World Class Speaking Coach. It wouldn’t be possible without every life experience, job skill, and classroom endeavor.

Teaching English as a foreign language gave me the years of experience I needed to coach people on their communication skills. My econ degree helps me do the books, and more importantly, help clients make decisions based on the resources they have available. The masters in guidance counseling taught me to ask the right questions, provoke deep answers, and listen actively. My journalism background keeps you reading this far, 100% AI-free.

Best of all, learning Spanish afforded me the luxury of converting my savings into Peruvian money while I build the business.

Exchange rate = 3.6:1. Beating the system yet again? Priceless.

Mike McQuillan

About the author

Mike McQuillan, aka the Fit Presenter, coaches fitness industry professionals to give top-quality presentations, seminars, and courses. His day job is an English teacher in Lima, Peru.

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  1. Mike – Brilliant blog post! Despite my degree and my work experience in higher education, I would wholeheartedly agree that a college degree doesn't guarantee you a job or career. My last semester in college a professor told all us Business Administration majors that we were graduating with no definable skill. What the heck! Someone could have mentioned that earlier. While I have had several jobs that require a degree, I know that won't be the case for everyone. So I loved the last paragraph of your blog because what really matters is the knowledge and experience you gained and how you've leveraged it throughout your life. My dad has taught at both the high school and college level. He always said school is not about remembering everything you learn. It's about learning how to learn, how to think and how to access information when you need it. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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