Last week I shared a story from the Orlando Business Journal. In it, Kent Hoover discusses a recent survey from Harvard University that says almost half of millennials think the “American Dream” is dead. Harvard’s Institute of Politics regularly surveys millennials on a variety of topics. This one focused mostly on who they support for president. The part that the OBJ writer and I found interesting was millennial’s perceptions of their opportunities for freedom, prosperity, and social mobility.


The American Dream, that whole, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” thing, has taken a beating lately. Politicians tell us in fiery rhetoric that the policies of “the other guys” hold you back and keep you down. News reporters tell us with somber gravity about episodes and instances of repression, violence, and failure. Late-night comedians and satirists comment lithely on the obtuse and outright stupid actions of those in the public eye. And your bruh just wants you to sit there so he’ll have someone to play Call of Duty. In other words, the commentary we’re bombarded with day in and day out feeds on a narrative of doom, fear, cynicism, and stagnation. Doom, gloom, and stupidity sell well.


However, one of the interesting points the survey makes is that education is a significant determining factor in the respondents’ outlook on the American Dream. Those with a college degree had a significantly higher probability of saying the American Dream was alive for them. The other determining factor was who they supported for President. The candidates on the left and right making the most noise about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket also tended to attract those who are more pessimistic about the future.


Those of you who complete your degree will have an advantage over those who don’t. Is there that much power in a piece of paper? Not really. It’s because while you’re in school you will have an opportunity to be exposed to information, people, and experiences that others who have to go immediately to work won’t get. You have an opportunity to open doors that wouldn’t otherwise open because people find students interesting and want to help you out. You’ll have an opportunity to do an internship, not a job, and pick up skills and connections with an employer that may not be otherwise interested in your skill set. You’ll have an opportunity to act, and fail, and learn, and then act again, and maybe fail again, without the prospect of getting immediately fired.


If you do it right, if you embrace your opportunities, then you will have a significant advantage over those who didn’t complete their degree. You’ll have skills, connections, and experiences that will help you accomplish your goal. You’ll have content for a story that you can tell to the people you’ve met and connect to a brighter future. You‘ll have a huge advantage over others when it comes to achieving the American Dream. But if you don’t take advantage of the opportunities, if you choose to just go to class, make a couple friends and be a good guy, if you don’t have a goal to work toward; you’ll be no better off than had you chosen to stay home.