… going three times: Sold!

“The Impression That I Get” is a catchy but insightful tune rolling across the airwaves right now, written by a band called the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Take a sample of the lyrics: I’m not a coward I’ve just never been tested / I like to think that if I was I would pass. And how about: Has it ever come down to do or die? / You got to rise above the rest.

Have you ever been tested? Has your integrity ever been challenged in a real dilemma? Have you ever had to make a choice between your principles and some enticing immediate gain?

Nowadays the kids in university are tested with a familiar choice: to sell out or to not sell out. If you haven’t experienced this quandary before you leave school, it certainly awaits you once you’ve graduated. Like the Sociology major who couldn’t find work after 11 months of searching and ended up taking a marketing gig. Like the Linguistics major who couldn’t find work after 14 months of searching and ended up taking a data entry job. Like the Fine Arts major who couldn’t find work after 16 months of searching and ended up working in sales. Like the History major who you get the picture. Keeping your dreams, ideals and principles in the working world is hard-they don’t keep you warm at night when you have no cash to pay the gas bill.

There are many complicated tests for the university graduate. Is it better to change the system from the outside or the inside? What will my friends think of me if I roll over and sacrifice what I believe in? Am I going to regret not spending more time having fun and meeting friends while I was at school? Do the financial rewards of a nine-to-five suit job make it worth handing my brain over to an employer for eight hours a day to do with as he pleases?

Lots of angry, under-educated punks talk loudly about standing up to “the man” and “staying real,” but it’s hardly that simple. Moreover, people are becoming too weary to condemn and judge, too ready to believe that selling out is commonplace and an accepted part of the road to a stable career. Some truth is betrayed here, since learning how to promote yourself and compete with others has as much to do with your success in life as it does with actually having talent. Just look at the elected representatives at your student newspaper, clubs or student government if you need a contemporary example of this. For some this rude awakening is enough to make them abandon the rat-race completely.

The notable exception is Management students, who are specifically trained in the art of selling out. When your goal from day one is to learn how to kiss ass, step on your fellow co-worker, climb the corporate ranks without having to actually cultivate any recognizable skills, and worship salary and influence above all, your potential for success in the work world has already gotten a big boost. And Management students are very proud of this.

So where do we learn about whether or not to sell out? Parents, teachers, professors and other authority figures in our lives are the people we look to (consciously or unconsciously) when deciding how to do the right thing. But nothing smells like success, and success often comes from the work of those people who end up doing some selling out along the way. Feeling ill yet?

A depressing instance of the consequences of selling out was witnessed by hopeful graduates at the recent University of Calgary convocation ceremony Nov. 12. Our Chancellor, oil & gas lawyer and Calgary business bigwig Jack Perraton, twiddled his thumbs in boredom, nodded off in his chair a few times, and managed to interrupt a speech by the Sergeant-at-Arms before the event concluded. I’m glad I wasn’t graduating while this embarrassing insult to students was happening. Why oh why is this corporate specimen representing our university?

Elected by our senate, Perraton is responsible for hob-nobbing with ulcerated executive bacon at cocktail parties around town and asking them to donate cash to our school. Hey, he’s good at it! Too bad he knows little of our school history, spirit or academic flavour. Our administration appointed a business maven to the position of Chancellor because he will help bring in badly-needed dollars. The sacrifice is that we have an oily corporate schmoozer representing our university and not an academic. Did the U of C sell out? Of course. Was it the right decision? You decide.

I’m going to try not to sell out, but I know it will be hard. I’ve learned lessons along the way already. Ideas, dreams, principles and values are important, because sometimes they’re all you have. Life may throw you a curve you’re not expecting, and can’t change. Whether or not you sell out, someone near you will. When they stick the knife in you and you’re left on the outside looking in, what do you have left? If you’ve sold out too, you’ll be standing there in front of the mirror, seeing nothing.

Gareth Morgan can be reached at gdlmorga@ucalgary.ca.

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