The New Graduate

From a 'quarterlife crisis,' a movement is born

Directionless and confused, Benjamin Braddock returned home from college lacking any motivation to get a job, preferring instead to float aimlessly in his parents' swimming pool. Indeed, Benjamin was also mentally adrift, unsure of his future and of himself, and ultimately vulnerable to Mrs. Robinson's advances. The movie posters for The Graduate say it all: "This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future."

While young Benjamin's romantic entanglements were unique, his post-college confusion is familiar to a new generation of graduates across the country.

This kind of emotional crisis among twentysomethings—the sense of desolation and inadequacy, coupled with a fear of failure—was finally recognized as a common phenomenon in 2001 with the publication of Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, a book co-authored by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner.

Wilner said she wrote the book "to help get me through my own crisis by validating my feelings to other people."

Since Benjamin Braddock floated in his pool in 1967, the post-graduation crisis has "become prolonged and more significant," according to Wilner; recent graduates now face a faltering job market, greater student loans and more debt than ever before. (See Brendan I. Koerner's "The Ambition Tax.")

Graduates must also adjust to the startling reality of independence: keeping a budget, doing their taxes, and finding health insurance.

Following the success of the book, which became a New York Times bestseller, Wilner created a website as an online support group. This year, Wilner partnered with Catherine Stocker to found NARG, the National Association of Recent Grads.

"Our vision for NARG is that we want to create an organization that will be the AARP of twentysomethings," Stocker said.

Stocker initially became involved with quarterlifecrisis.com to help Wilner "come up with some ideas about how to respond to the thousands and thousands of twentysomethings that were coming to the website community for help," Stocker said. "I was so drawn to Abby's vision and I thought that this was such an incredible movement and there was such an incredible need out there, that we partnered up to start NARG."

Although quarterlifecrisis.com will still provide a community for twentysomethings, NARG will be "the overarching organization," Stocker said. NARG plans to offer information on health care, job hunting, finances, and social networking. In addition, like the AARP, the group will use the power of numbers to negotiate discounted member rates for various products and services, from movie tickets to health insurance.

"When I graduated and had my own quarterlife crisis, I had nowhere to turn," Wilner said. "There was no central place to search for help. And there's really a need for that. A place that will not only offer discounts, but resources and information."

For a kickoff event, NARG will hold a symposium at the Georgetown Conference Center in Washington, D.C., the weekend of August 20. The event will feature workshops to provide practical advice and tools for getting through one's quarterlife crisis and will also serve as a forum where people from the website's community can meet in person.

"You could come out of the best school and be the smartest person in your class and it doesn't mean that you know how to prepare your tax returns. It doesn't mean that you know the ins and outs of an HMO or a PPO," Stocker said. "Unfortunately too many people in their twenties learn by trial and error. You sort of figure it out when you're sitting there in the emergency room with a really bad illness and think, 'Oh, what do I do now? I don't have health insurance.'"

While a generation ago Benjamin Braddock recovered from his crisis in the arms of Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine. NARG offers recent grads resources, community, and even a little optimism—without all the awkwardness of having your former mistress as an in-law.

 
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