Published June 11. 2013 4:00AM
This month typically ushers in one of the most jubilant seasons of the year - the start of summer, a time for vacations, weddings, proms and commencement ceremonies.
But as new graduates don caps and gowns, marching proudly to receive diplomas, their joy doubtless has been tempered by anxiety because of an uncertain job market.
The past generation took for granted that after earning a high school diploma they would either go on to college and then land a job, or skip getting a degree and launch careers in a trade, the military, retail, manufacturing or countless other forms of employment.
For most, getting a job was a birthright.
But in today's global economy, neither high school nor college graduates can count on finding work - and many with degrees need jobs not just for living expenses but also to pay off massive education loans.
Economists offer varied and conflicting reasons for the clouded employment picture: A skyrocketing national debt has stifled hiring by employers nervous about the future; greedy investors are seeking rewards from Wall Street rather than putting money in Main Street; an aging population demands increasingly costly entitlements; better-trained, highly disciplined foreigners are willing to work for lower wages and fewer benefits ... and on and on.
Whatever the causes of double-digit unemployment and chronic under-employment among the nation's youth, the effect has been sobering.
At one time students were encouraged to pursue a broad liberal arts education so they could not just learn a skill but also develop an appreciation for Shakespeare and Mozart, an understanding of Nietzsche, the difference between Monet and Manet.
Many of today's students are urged to focus instead on such specialized fields as nursing, software design, or engineering, to name but three - all worthy enterprises, but we lament the notion that young minds shouldn't be distracted by less prosaic pursuits.
Not all news is bad, though. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, salaries likely will average $44,928 for the Class of 2013, a 5 percent gain from last year's average. The association also reported that 2.1 percent more new college grads from the Class of 2013 will be hired this year than from the Class of 2012.
On the other hand, that is a considerable decline from expectations reported last fall that employers would hire 13 percent more new graduates.
Despite such trends, the Class of 2013, like all classes, includes enormously bright, dedicated, diverse and creative students, which makes us cautiously optimistic about the future.
We are counting on them to fulfill the obligation of every new batch of graduates - to make life better for the next generation.