T.S. Eliot was right, Harrison thought. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Although his English bachelors degree had been useful in law school, now Harrison James Pellingham, III needed it for a job. Yes, he knew that 100,000 new lawyers graduated every year from varying degrees of prestigious institutions, all vying for the same jobs. Yes, he knew that only 63% of law school graduates actually found work within the legal field, while others took far less distinguished work. Yes, he knew that taking out excessive student loans would saddle him with crippling student debt for decades.
But he was different, until he wasn’t.
We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men
Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Now the compounding interest on his six figure law school debt caused him many sleepless nights.
So, there he sat, demoralized and exhausted, in the university’s career placement center lobby. Harrison James Pellingham, III, having slyly played the game, having garnered the prestigious internships, having excelled at the unwritten office politics for law clerks, now lost whatever momentum he thought he had in his nascent legal career. In response to uncertain times and the principal shareholders’ financial disputes, the law firm where he interned in hopes of a job abruptly rescinded all offers.
“Pellingham?” called one of the career placement counselors. She looked at him with almost complete indifference.
“Call me Harrison,” he replied, holding out his hand, ready to grip hers with a firm handshake.
“Follow me,” she motioned, then added, “Harrison.”
Shape without form, shade without color,
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.
In a cubicle, Harrison sat on the edge of his chair, ramrod straight with appropriate eye contact.
“Stand down, Harrison. This isn’t an interview. I’m just going to tell you what we have available at the present time,” she said flatly, attempting to reassure him. But her reassurance wasn’t reassuring to Harrison, who felt he had deigned to return to the university from which he’d just matriculated.
He should not have needed help to find a job.
“Are you interested in sales?”
“No, I’m an attorney,” he crisply replied.
“It says on your resume you have an MBA,” she looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “A sales position might lead to a management role?”
“I’m a corporate attorney,” he amended.
“Son, you are neither right now. You are unemployed,” she slowly said, knowing the full effect of her words. He looked down at his newly polished loafers.
“I’m not interested in sales,” he muttered.
“Are you looking for an internship?”
“I have interned and was a law clerk this past summer,” he said. “I’m looking for a job at a law firm.”
She sighed and scrolled down the screen, eyebrows furrowing.
“There is a teacher shortage,” she remarked.
“An English teacher,” she clarified. “There are a dozen openings, mainly in the downtown area schools. You could apply for an immediate temporary teaching certificate until you pass the state tests. English is a critical need subject. Luckily, you have a bachelor's degree in English.”
“Luckily,” he repeated. “Luckily? I just graduated with my juris doctorate,” Harrison replied, failing to keep the arrogance-bordering-on-hysteria out of his voice.
“There is no shortage of lawyers,” she looked at him, pointedly.
He sat stone faced.
“Would you like to apply to be an English teacher? You could start in August,” she tried again.
“You. want. me. to. apply. to. be. a. high. school. English. teacher.”
“Actually a middle school English teacher. There always seems to be middle school English teacher jobs available. I believe two are nearby where you live . . .” She continued to click and scroll.
“What’s the salary,” he finally said, not completely believing such a question formed in his head and came out of his mouth.
“Let’s see,” she squinted at the monitor. “A first year teacher in this particular school district makes . . . yes, here it is. $39,408. You would also qualify for a $523 yearly stipend considering your advanced degree. You could always coach a team or pick up an extra class for additional stipends.”
“Say that again,” Harrison asked. “What’s the salary?”
“$39,408. Plus benefits.”
“Do the benefits include another $39,408?”
“Harrison, I know you were hoping to find another legal job, but the market is upside down right now. Law firms, the ones still in business, simply are not hiring. Especially recent graduates with zero clients and zero expertise. We already discussed possible options with the public defender's office. As a public defender, you would work about twice as hard as a teacher. The hours are challenging. If you want to stay in the legal profession, we can look at some pro bono organizations. Legal Aid was looking for . . . ”
“I’m a transactional attorney. I have an MBA. I have my JD. I’m not using my credentials to get some homeless vagrant out of jail,” Harrison replied evenly.
“Well, you might want to do something until the legal field rebounds. Law firms across the country are restructuring the way they do business. You could open your own shop? Maybe try one of the new virtual law firms?”
“But they all want someone with experience,” he said, looking down at his shoes again.
“That’s the Catch-22. You can’t get experience without a job. You can’t get a job without experience. That’s the problem we run into all day long here at career placement,” she said, sadly confirming what he knew was true.
Between the emotion / And the response
Falls the Shadow / Life is very long
He was an overeducated, unemployed young man with almost zero possibilities. Although over a quarter of the way through his life, he felt as world weary and dispirited as an old man.
How much simpler it was when he was an undergraduate student, he thought. The English classes were so rewarding, compared to the endless finance and accounting courses in his MBA program, compared to the endless esoteric readings of legal opinions and writing stale case briefs in law school.
“You know, I’ve always liked English,” he said, looking out the window. “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”
“Do you dare disturb who—?” the counselor half questioned, focusing on typing his information into the computer. The printer whirled, printing out a possible future for Harrison James Pellingham, III.
“You can call these two assistant principals for an interview,” she smiled, handing him a small stack of papers. “Who knows, Harrison? You may just love it.”
“Possibly,” Harrison managed a wry smile. “Middle school English teacher? The hope only / Of empty men.”