Letter from campus: The old and the new

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

The alum I called had lost his job last year, about six months after his wife lost hers. His story was far too typical of the knavery occurring in a nation reeling under a recession. One day at work he was told to inform several people in the office that they were being “let go.”
Once he finished that unpleasant task, his boss summarily fired him, too.

Double ouch.

“Could you write about your experience for Notre Dame Magazine?” I asked. We wanted to start a conversation on how Domers are facing tough times, how they’re surviving.

You never read that story here.

“Carol, I kept going over it in my head, but I just couldn’t write it down,” he emailed me. “There is so much to this being out of work at this point in one’s career, including embarrassment.”

Way beyond ouch.

Our spring intern, Amber Travis ’09, grabbed at the chance to write an article on a related topic, this one reporting on her visit to the University’s Winter Career Fair and her fears of post-graduation joblessness. It appeared in this space in our spring issue and on our website.

In this era of social networks, we also solicited comments about the recession on the magazine’s Facebook page and the ND Alumni LinkedIn page.

Some Domers shared stories of lives changed by economic woes. One young grad contemplated moving back to her parents’ house: “I love my parents, but they don’t want me in their house as much as I don’t want to be.”

A 2008 graduate is “in a horrible situation,” living in New York City with no income and an unbreakable year’s lease. A Georgia educator wrote, “The only way that I have been able to survive (feed my children and pay the mortgage) for the past two years is by staying enrolled in graduate school.” A 1980s grad in what is called a “survival job” said, “We can’t really afford medical care even though we are insured because the deductibles are so high.”

We’d hoped the opportunity to vent might at least provide some psychological relief to downtrodden Domers. But this is Notre Dame, so others quickly jumped in to extend a virtual helping hand to Amber and other distressed Domers.

“I’m surprised to admit that it has been rather enlightening to place my monthly expenses under a microscope,” wrote a government employee facing a cash crunch. “I moved to Australia last year and that has worked out well . . . as you broaden your search you tend to find areas that are undermanned for skilled positions,” offered another reader.

“Keep personal expenses and debt as low as possible, resist the desire to buy ‘bright, shiny objects,’ have a pioneer spirit and relocate as our forebears did, and be open to change,” advised yet another.

The alumni on LinkedIn have filled a discussion thread with tips, notices of career forums and even ideas for a website being put together at ND to address all types of employment issues.

Through it all, there was an overriding message: “I cannot emphasize the value of the ND network enough,” said one. Seek out the nearest alumni club for support, advised another.

Neither the young Amber nor the older me are naïve enough to think that the ND network can magically find work for every unemployed or underemployed Domer or ease the pain of my embarrassed friend. Still, as the young man struggling to survive in NYC commented, “All of the ND alums on LinkedIn I’ve talked to have been a huge help in pointing me in the right direction.”

The other day, a reader used the U.S. mail to send a career handbook and supportive message to Amber. Mixing the old and new, a pleased Amber told me, “I’m going to email him a thank-you note.”

Print and electronic, physical and virtual: Support, it appears, never goes out of style.

Carol Schaal is managing editor/web editor of this magazine.