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Summerscape on Loon Lake By Tim McCarthy

Hire the class of 2024. Now.

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“They took what was thrown at them, adapted, and met that all head-on”

A Column by Bob Confer

It was reported last month in the Wall Street Journal that employers are in no rush to hire recent college graduates. Hiring managers plan to bring on substantially fewer of them than they did last year, citing the need for years of experience and the impact of artificial intelligence on so-called entry-level tasks. Graduates who were interviewed for the article and began their job searches before having diploma in hand say they’re seeing it, from limited responses to their resumes to rescinded offers to ghosting.

I would strongly suggest such employers rethink their strategies and go all-in with the Class of 2024 – they bring too much to the table to pass up.

Last month, I had the honor of participating in the commencement ceremonies at SUNY Brockport as part of President Macpherson’s platform party. I sat on the stage, dressed in cap and gown, where I got the chance to see and celebrate nearly 2,000 graduates as they realized their dream.

Graduation is always a high-energy, high-emotion scene, but this year’s event had more smiles, heartier handshakes, and louder cheers than ever because of the huge sense of accomplishment to be had in navigating and succeeding in the minefield we call the 2020s.

Just think of everything these young people faced.

The dawning days of the pandemic in 2020 saw the last few months of their senior year of high school transformed into online learning that neither they nor their teachers were prepared for. The Senior Prom was cancelled, along with spring sports. Then, graduation — the heavy, emotional end to childhood and the past 13 years of roaming the halls of their alma mater — was canceled or turned into a drive-through or virtual event that lacked the magic they and their families had long hoped for.

Heading to college that fall was their first extended time away from home and their parents. Leaving that comfort and protection is stressful enough for most kids, but imagine doing that less than a half-year removed from the start of lockdowns, with the concerns of Covid and institutional and government protocols weighing heavily on their life on campus and off, impacting everything from how they learned to how they moved about campus to how they made new friends in that new, strange place.

As if that wasn’t enough, that first freshman semester also saw the stresses of civil unrest that had overtaken the nation and deeply affected many. 

Over the course of their four years in college they saw a gradual return to normalcy on campus – like going all-in with classroom learning, ditching the masks, and socializing – but things in the outside world continued to weigh heavily on them. Out on their own for the first time, they were hit hard by relentless inflation that destroyed their already tight budgets. At the same time, supply chain issues totally changed their expectations for some college and personal experiences. Then, the world saw conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East, the latter dividing people and leading to protests on various campuses as they closed out the senior year of a tumultuous college career.

The Class of 2024 experienced a lot. They matured in a hurry, having thrust upon them a lifetime of situations in a matter of four years. They took what was thrown at them, adapted, and met that all head-on. 

That alone should make them marketable. But, also consider how this impacted their education in remarkable ways.

Nursing students received experiential learning in the most chaotic and fluid public health environment in over a century, directly seeing how hospitals navigated everything around Covid. They were thrown right into the fire.

Business majors were able to see and discuss their textbook theories in the real world as issues of supply and demand and inflation dominated. They even had the chance to deeply analyze crisis management while businesses navigated those issues and the pandemic.

Sociology students saw the events of 2020 and 2021 – from societal upheaval around Covid to social unrest – as a real-time means to dig in deep to their studies, to see how theory played out in the hearts and minds of individuals and the collective society.

College students aspiring to be teachers learned first-hand new teaching tools (such as remote and virtual learning) just as all of the education world itself learned them. They also saw the negative impact lockdowns had on kids in primary schools, which readied them to help fix what’s now broken.

And, public administration majors saw the good and the bad of what government can do during crises, providing them a perspective of things to do and not do if ever they are the ones in charge.

What I’ve written here only touches the surface of what the Class of 2024 faced and overcame, learned and applied, did and will do. Any human resources manager worth their salt should put these graduates’ resumes at the top of the stack. The benefits that will be afforded their employer are too many to mention, and too many to pass up. This class is special.           

Bob Confer writes opinion columns and nature columns for the Wellsville Sun. He is a Niagara County resident and businessman who, as a camp owner, considers Allegany County to be his beloved home-away-from home. You can email him at:  

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