There are three traditionally crucial stages of a person’s life. There is birth. Though it is optional, marriage is another important part of a person’s social life. And, surely, death is inescapable.
Nowadays, there are four. In addition to the above three, there is graduation. The importance of this instance in a person’s life is especially punctuated in Ethiopia, where graduations are a big deal, almost close to national celebrations.
Probably, illiteracy has something to do with this. For a country where not long ago the illiteracy rate used to be as high as 45pc, having a child, or even an extended family member, who can read and write is indeed a big deal.
Most of today’s youth are the first generation in their family to even go to college. Graduating, then, so much so like marriage, is considered a unique one-time occurrence, bringing honour and continuance to a family’s name.
Students of most colleges, in most fields, graduate in the summer season. This year, all state-run universities have held graduation ceremonies on three consecutive Saturdays, beginning on June 24. One after the other, universities have been emancipating students in their thousands into the vast domain of adulthood.
Some of these ceremonies, in keeping with tradition, have been broadcast live on the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) television channel, or else are mentioned on the afternoon and evening news.
Most of the time, the ceremonies are attended by high-ranking officials of the government, who are invited to make mostly very long sleep-inducing speeches, with some possible exceptions.
The ambience during this season of university graduations could be compared to the festive feel of the big religious holidays.
Printing machines go into overdrive, slaving away producing various flyers, posters and displays. Flower shops make a killing selling red and yellow roses wrapped in gift cases. And shops in the popular neighbourhoods of Piassa and Merkato unload scores of suits and leather shoes.
And then there are the shindigs, usually thrown by parents for their children. Most of them will take place once the Christian fasting season, known as YeSene Tsome, concludes on July 8 this year.
Spices and meat products may become more expensive, as would graduation gown rentals, tents and baked goods. Guests attending graduation parties usually choose from a rather narrow list of presents to bring for the alumna or alumnus.
Topping the list are silver and gold jewellery, shirts, pictures of holy figures and quote embossed plates, with the latter two not being very popular among the youth.
These celebrations are more to the benefit, joy and gratification of parents than to the students themselves.
For the freshly graduated, high-octane celebrations of this type only help to elevate the nervousness associated with finishing something and beginning another.
The sheer number of guests, the amount of attention one gets, and the exorbitant sum of photos taken is entirely too overwhelming, and rather would be completely unbearable if it was not for the various presents received.
Maybe the trepidation on the side of the graduating youth is the outlook of life after college.
What is there really? What are the employment opportunities?
Sure, the economy is growing, but nowhere as fast as the number of people that are finishing college. The tens of thousands that graduate this year alone will be put into the same boat that the already unemployed find themselves in.
Finding a job with zero years of experience is a cutthroat task, especially in the fields of engineering and health services, where the supply has far surpassed the demand, making the job alternatives low wage.
At least, six out of every ten high school mates I encounter tell me they have given up on the field they majored in, and are now doing completely unrelated jobs. It is to the loss of the nation that we do not have more think tanks and research facilities that gauge out such flaws in administrative policies.
We cannot per se say how many are abandoning their field, but it is probably too many for the situation to be neglected by the government.
It is also imperative to note where all of these graduates plan to make a living. It is very hard to find a graduate from a rural town who also wants to work in that town, and even harder to come across one born and raised in an urban area who wants a job outside an urban area.
The youth are flocking to the big cities, in search of better opportunities. Creating a job opportunity in some unpronounceable municipality of Ethiopia means a lot less than bringing jobs to places like Adama or Hawassa.
In arguing all of this, I do not mean to burst anyone’s bubble. To graduate, as most have told me, is to finally become a man. Everything becomes serious after this, if I make a mistake, I would not cost myself an A grade, but the company I work for a lot of money. And when I cheat, I could get arrested.
But sometimes, it is also important to take a step back to better sprint forward. We have to make sure that all those that graduate are not left out in the cold. Youth, when frustrated and without a future, can become a dangerous part of society.
But youth that feels in charge of his or her own destiny can be a fantastic asset.
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