Too (Un)cool to be let out of school

Too Cool for School pic

I recently came across an interesting New York Times article about a law student at the San Diego-based Thomas Jefferson School of Law who was pursuing a lawsuit against her school, claiming that the powers that be fudged their graduation/job success numbers. The basis of her argument? She, a seemingly well-qualified graduate of the school, was unable to procure a job after finishing her studies.

Pushing $170,000 in student loan debt and working against an unmerciful job market, the woman filing the suit felt she had a strong case.

What sounded like what could’ve been a great story about the underdog’s attempt to right what may or may not have been corruption in the school system ends rather anticlimactically—the jury decided 9-3 her argument was futile.

My first reaction was amusement when I got wind of the story. Justified or not, using the law to try to turn the tables on your LAW school? That’s some risky business, like running for office against the politician you’ve been interning for all summer.

Obviously I am not a law student and have no desire to be one, but looking back on the story, I can sympathize with this young lady’s plight, as I realize I can relate to her in small but somewhat similar ways.

Perhaps the young woman put too much stock in her education. Don’t get me wrong; I love school, and have a feeling that after I’ve been in the workforce for at least a little bit of time, I’ll be back at it again.

But quite frankly, I credit any success I’ve had as far as jobs go with being in the right place at the right time, or in some cases, the wrong place at the right time, and not because of anything I’ve said or did or am. Yet I think I must’ve said the right thing or name-dropped the right person at least a few times when it was critical.

If there’s one thing school’s taught me—albeit indirectly—it’s that “book smarts” aren’t necessarily necessary. I mean, to some degree they are, but I wish I’d put more stock in more useful life skills, like how to balance a checkbook, how to be more desirable on sites like LinkedIn, and how to make myself look good not just on paper but also verbally.

These thoughts come to mind when I get those occasional LinkedIn updates each week, and I see how successful a former college peer is doing in life. How is it that a low-life frat boy ended up doing marketing for a major athletic company? Pretty sure the last book he read cover to cover was about a chimpanzee and his adopted human father, a man in a yellow hat.

Where the law student may have fallen short in her litigation is failing to realize that it’s quite easy to skew facts and figures to making something (i.e. a school’s appeal) look better than it actually is. If your school has a 95% employment success rate, that’s all well and good, but could really mean that half of that 95% are baristas at your local Starbucks. Which is also well and good, but I don’t really imagine these law school kids had dreams of being Starbucks Employee of the Month fresh out of graduation.

I’ve joked about it with friends before, but I make the half-teasing claim that my English degree is basically useful for sounding halfway cultured at a fancy dinner party (Think “Fraser”). Or you know, teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird” to students who hate books…and you.

I jest, I jest. I don’t regret anything I’ve learned, but I do regret what I haven’t, like the above items I mentioned.

One of the hardest truths I learned about the real world was in one of my upper-division journalism classes. In almost any field, it doesn’t always matter what you know (unless you’re a doctor or scientist), but who you know. Even if I sucked at writing at the beginning of my school/work life, that would’ve been easy to fix in comparison to building up connections.

Unfortunately in my case, and for others who can relate, not having a naturally charismatic persona does no wonders for you.

My perpetual shyness has generally NOT worked in my favor except in that’s it challenged me to chase after what I really want, such as a position, a research opportunity, convincing my college I shouldn’t have to take so many biblical studies classes in order to graduate (Did I mention I was an English—not theology—major?), etc. Thinking more broadly, I’ve had to take that “Fake it ‘til you make it” adage to heart when I’m lacking confidence in certain situations, such as leadership positions.

Maybe the law student who filed the suit was both book and people-smart. Maybe she wasn’t. I don’t really know. What I will say is that before making such high-stakes claims against your alma mater or whatever institution helped shape you as a person, consider concurrently enrolling in the school of life to see what you might’ve missed out on before pointing a finger.