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What is your purpose?

What is your purpose?

EACE Blog contribution by Jesse Wingate, Assistant Director in the Office of Alumni and Career Services, University of Richmond

what-is-your-purpose-quoteLast week I read a blog post on The New York Times website titled, “A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’” by Gordon Marino, professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College. This post got me thinking about the thousands of students who have crossed the stage with a degree in hand over the past few weeks. While this is not typically an aphorism that I use in my daily practice with students and alumni, it does relate well to an ethos commonly shared amongst career development professionals in higher education. The two previous posts that I had written for the EACE Bridges blog were very much focused on the outcomes collection process and the Higher Education Reauthorization, but in reflection about what I had to offer in my final post, I thought it apt to include a bit of my own thoughts about the post graduate experience.

The end of an academic year is often a time that yields thought about the finitude of a very common chapter in a person’s life. Staff and faculty offer satisfied sighs of relief; parents and family members dote appropriately on the accomplishments of their graduates; and the graduates themselves say their goodbyes to friends and begin that next chapter of life. As a career professional, it is one of the most satisfying experiences that can be had when a student makes that transition from one identity to the next. As we consider our advice to students as they embark upon this next step, a great question to beg of them is not “what are you going to do?” but instead, “what is your purpose?”

For students, family, faculty and staff, apropos for the continuity of the contemporary college or university, success is commonly measured by the employment outcomes of the graduate. Inherent in the “do what you love” mantra, however, is the belief that success is defined by what a graduate’s desired destination is sans mention of remuneration for a costly endeavor. Aye, there’s the rub. In other words, how do we balance a want for students to be successful in their respective careers and purposeful and personally satisfied in their lives? What is the purpose?

With national attention on the cost of higher education and the successful outcomes of our graduates, we’ve lost touch with the fact that the purpose for attending college or university is largely relativistic. If I was to ask ten people on a college or university campus what they thought the purpose of an education would be, I would not be alarmed to find great inconsistency in the responses; replies dotted with varied factors influenced by knowledge, socio-economic statuses, gender expressions, race and ethnicities. Is this not one of the benefits of a college or university education?

In a rush to help students define who they are by what they do, it becomes easy for us to cast aside the deeply personal and ceaseless inquisition that many of our recent graduates work through. I recognize the importance of successful “placement” of graduates. To me, this conversation is easy to have as a career professional; however, it’s far more complicated to have a conversation about purpose. To me, that’s the good stuff.


Jesse Wingate

Jesse Wingate

Jesse Wingate is an Assistant Director in the Office of Alumni and Career Services at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia. He currently advises undergraduate students interested in science and health related professions and has been involved with post graduate outcomes collections processes at two institutions. Before joining the staff in Richmond, Jesse held roles at Dartmouth College and the HowardCenter, a community mental health and multi-service agency in Burlington, Vermont. Jesse earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from St. Lawrence University and a Master of Education degree from the University of Vermont.   Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn or via email at jwingate@richmond.edu.

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