When I was younger, I would go with my mom to the mall and point at random things that had no actual meaning for me. They were just pretty things, and I wanted to have them. But, as with any child in an Asian household, the constant no’s were already part of our system. They were nothing short of white noise.
Growing up, I was told to finish studying so that I could get a job, and then I’d be able to buy anything I liked. The concept felt excruciating to me. As a first grader, I thought finishing college would take an eternity to achieve.
Eventually, I did finish college. But that did not mean that everything was going to be easy from then on.
I graduated amid a pandemic, which meant I could not experience a ceremony that allowed me to throw my cap up in the air and to scurry through a hurricane of people to look for it afterward. It may seem silly, but I wanted to experience the long lines, the droning program, and the humid weather to feel that I had officially finished college.
The frustration I felt then feels immaterial now. After all, I did finish my tertiary education, which meant I could now buy the pretty things I had always wanted.
I was wrong. Obviously.
I always knew that looking for a job would be hard. It was something that you did not have to experience; you just knew it wasn’t an easy process. I do not come from the Ayalas or the Villars of this country. Neither am I that well-connected to afford a single phone call that could expedite my application through the bureaucratic structures that hound the Philippine workforce. This meant that I had to work twice as hard as everyone else to establish my worth.
I thought that finishing on top of my class with a coveted Latin honor would be the perfect embellishment to my beautifully crafted resume, and that everything was going to go off smoothly.
I was wrong. Again.
Not only did the tight competition restrict whatever opportunities were in store for a communications graduate like me, but the pandemic also intensified an already cutthroat world for fresh graduates.
However, I do acknowledge that amid everything, I was still provided certain privileges that not many of my peers were able to experience. But even then, it was still hard.
Fortunately for me, I managed to land back-to-back jobs a couple of months after I graduated. Unfortunately, I quit all of them due to the constant pressure and exploitative nature of the work arrangements.
I kept thinking of all the pretty things I wanted, which had now mutated to the more expensive kinds, and how they seemed to be further out of reach compared to where I was decades ago.
I would log into social media and see former classmates ranting about unemployment or their regrets in taking a degree that did not promise anything stable. One could easily reduce their struggles to mere noise since they already had degrees to capitalize on, but I understood what they were going through.
The pandemic magnified an already fragile and corrupt system that makes it hard for newbies like us to succeed. It is as if we were set up to fail; worse, our situation had gaslit us into feeling that we were solely responsible for the setbacks we were facing.
In college, older people would always tell me to enjoy the whole experience, because the “real world”, they said, was nowhere near as comfortable as being a student who enjoyed a weekly allowance with no major responsibilities. I always knew this had a semblance of truth, because there was no way that submitting an essay would be harder than paying the electricity bills. But there were times when deadlines piled up and the stress of being a student got to you, and those were the moments when I’d beg whatever god there was to help me graduate.
I did not want to be subjected to assignments and unreasonable deadlines anymore. I wanted to get a degree, work, and be able to buy the stuff that I had always dreamt of. However, I also realized that if people like me did manage to land high-paying jobs (or any job at all), most likely it would not allow us to buy pretty things since the impending responsibility of bills, food, and debt loomed on the side.
Unemployment is not a foreign concept. So are underemployment, capitalism, corporate slavery and greed, and existential crisis (not to mention that we live in the Philippines in this political climate). I knew that it was going to be hard going forward. But a part of me always thought that a degree would soften the blow. But—you guessed it right—I was wrong.
We were made to think that education would pave the way to a better life. To a certain extent, I believe this still rings true. I do not mean to be a defeatist. But what they don’t tell you is that the concept of having a “better” life has become more and more elusive for the working class. What is education nowadays if not neoliberalism persevering?