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As a college senior, most of my conversations these days end up with questions about what I am going to do with the rest of my life. Generally, I try to subtly change the subject before anyone realizes I haven’t got a clue. So, in a conversation with my dad earlier this year, I attempted to avoid the inevitable subject of the future by asking him what it was like when he graduated from college. And let me tell you, we have it a lot easier than college graduates did in 1964.
The Vietnam War was beginning to escalate, and there weren’t many options for recent graduates. They could face the draft, enroll in officer candidate school, join the Peace Corps, or continue on in school. With the possibility of being drafted hanging over their heads, they didn’t have the luxury of taking time to simply follow their dreams. The decisions they made were based on a war, and a controversial one at that.
My dad wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, though he did know that he didn’t want to get involved in the conflict, especially one in which the chances for survival were not promising. For that reason, he and a couple of friends decided to apply for Naval officer candidate school. However, my dad eventually decided to go to graduate school. He applied for deferment with his draft board and then headed to California to attend UC Berkeley’s Business School.
While at school, the fear and uncertainty that permeated the nation was still present, and my dad began thinking about what step he would take once his two-year graduate program ended. So, he applied to enter the Peace Corps, which would allow him to extend his deferment. He was accepted to the Peace Corps in India, yet decided against going. He would explore another option.
When he finally did complete graduate school in 1966, he applied for Air Force officer candidate school and was accepted. But, before he began training for the Air Force, his Army draft number was called. He went to the draft board and ended up failing the physical because of a minor health problem. As a result, they put him on deferment. My dad then decided to go into the banking business to wait out the draft, but he was never called again.
While it worked out that my dad never had to be a part of the Vietnam War, it was something that still affected each one of his decisions. His options were limited, and it was sometimes unclear whether he was doing something because he wanted to or because he had to consider his options in light of the draft.
The climate of the nation was heavy with emotions and burdened by the war. The nation was divided, creating a hostile environment in many of the cities around the country.
Today, we have it so much better. For one thing, there is no longer a draft. People don’t have to live in fear of being ripped out of their everyday lives and sent to war. We have the ability to pursue more freely what we want. Whether that’s starting your own business, or going back to live with mom and dad for a while, we have options.
Some of you may even feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices you have. The thought of having limits might actually seem appealing. It can be pretty intimidating trying to determine what you want to do with your life when you have no idea where to start. But, at least you won’t be forced to be part of something you don’t believe in. And, isn’t better to have too many options than not enough? You don’t have to figure it all out right away. You have time to think it through.
So, to all my fellow soon-to-be graduates, no matter how daunting the future may seem, at least we have the freedom to make our own choices and follow our dreams. Remember that the next time you get frustrated with all the questions about the future. I know I will.