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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

The number of Advanced Placement courses has expanded dramatically since parents were the age of their high school children.

Whereas we could have taken, say, four or five APs, the modern high school student can graduate with considerably more.

Current students can and sometimes do take as many as eight, nine, 10 or more AP classes, in the hopes of knocking the socks off college admissions counselors, guidance counselors and future prospective employers. All those AP classes can also give students enough college credits to help them graduate in under four years.

I’d like to propose my own list of AP classes for future generations.

— AP Listening. So many people love to talk, to hear their own voices, and to tell others how they’re wrong even before people can share a fully formed opinion. In this class, students would be required to listen to new ideas, to consider them and to react and interact with others. Speaking would be considerably less important than listening carefully.

— AP Conspiracy Theory. We all know that conspiracy theories are as ubiquitous as “Welcome” signs in corner stores. This AP class would look deeply at some of the most detailed conspiracy theories, giving students a chance to question everyone and everything, including those people who create and pass along conspiracies.

— AP Saying No. To borrow from former First Lady Nancy Reagan, saying “no” to drugs, among other things, is a healthy and important part of growing up and making the most of the college experience. The class could provide students with a wide range of situations in which students say “no” without damaging their ego or social status.

— AP Social Media Etiquette, or SME, for short. Some seniors get into colleges well before their colleagues. When they do, they post pictures of themselves on campus, their parents wearing gear from the school that admitted them, and the school emblem or insignia with confetti coming down from the top of the screen. Yes, you got into college, and yes, that’s wonderful, but other members of your class are still applying and don’t need to feel awful because they haven’t gotten in anywhere yet.

— AP It’s Not About Me (or, perhaps, INAM). Yes, this is a bit like a psychology class, but instead of studying theories and psychology legends, these students could explore real-life scenarios in which, say, Sue becomes angry with John. John may not have done anything in particular, but Sue may be reacting to someone else in her life, like her parents forcing her to take AP It’s Not About Me instead of going to soccer practice.

— AP Take Responsibility. When something goes wrong at school, work or in the house, it’s far too easy to point the finger at someone else. In this class, students can learn how to take responsibility, when it’s appropriate, and demonstrate courage, leadership, and initiative in accepting responsibility for their mistakes.

— AP Personal History. Each of us has our own story to tell. Colleges urge prospective students to find their authentic voice. That’s not always easy in a world filled with formulas and scripted and structured writing. In this personal history class, students could take a microscope to their own lives and to the lives of their extended family, understanding and exploring characteristics and life stories. Students might discover family patterns they wish to emulate or to avoid at all costs.

— AP Tail Wagging. While the world is filled with problems, students could explore modern and historical moments and ideas that inspire them and that give them reasons to celebrate. This class could blend a combination of historical triumphs with small daily reasons to celebrate or, if you prefer, to wag your tail.

— AP Get to Know Your Parents. High school students who are well ahead of their time emotionally and intellectually may come to the conclusion many others reach before their mid 20’s: that their parents are, big shock here, people! Yeah, we do ridiculous thing like send them in the wrong clothing to school, miss important dances, and embarrass them by kissing them in front of their friends. This course could help accelerate the process of seeing parents for the imperfect creatures who love them unconditionally.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A recent article that I saw on the Internet claimed that nine out of 10 graduates had regrets about their college. Wow! That’s almost unanimous discontent. Most regretted the heavy debt they had incurred. Some said the college they chose wasn’t a good fit for them. Others expressed disappointment with their major. I, too, have a regret about college; although I am not one generally to harbor regrets, I will confess that regret now.

I regret that I didn’t study harder when I was lucky enough to be in college. Now, this has nothing to do with my particular college. It is a personal failing. I am sure I would have behaved much the same way wherever I had gone to school. But here is the thing about college. It’s much the same thing as is said about computers: garbage in, garbage out.

Had I applied myself a lot harder, I would have gained a lot more in the way of a splendid education from my college courses and years. After all, I went to a fine college. Instead, I was more interested, especially during the first two years, in dating.

Not to be too hard on myself, I had a lot of catching up to do on that front. The last time I was in a co-ed situation before college was in the sixth grade of my neighborhood elementary school. For junior high and high school, I attended one of the schools in New York City requiring an entrance exam, and it was for all girls.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved the school. Many of the teachers had PhDs. I knew I was getting a first-rate education, and I really applied myself to my studies. What else was there to do? I even thrived on the keen competition there, despite the fact that it was considered appropriate to bemoan such a barbaric value.

It was also appropriate to wish the school were co-ed, which we all did, and fervently at the time. Now it is co-ed, and as I look back, I am not so sure that was such a good idea.

But I digress.

My college was also one of what was then regarded as the prestigious Seven Sisters and technically all women, although we certainly didn’t refer to ourselves that way at the time. We were girls, and it was an all-girls college. On the other hand, right across the main avenue that ran in front of the campus was an all-boys undergraduate college.

Needless to say, I crossed the road, both to get to the other side, (as in the old joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road”?) and also to use the library at the all-male school. That library was larger, had more comfortable seats, better lighting, and besides, I rarely returned without having at least one date, sometimes two, and even occasionally three dates for the upcoming weekend. It took the first two years to come to something approaching equilibrium.

Life was good. But for my grades, not so much.

Furthermore, I thought that I didn’t really have an appropriate major. I was pre-med. That wasn’t considered a true major, but it did require many hours of science classes that came with many hours in many labs. I could have spaced out those labs — heavy courses — but thought I should get them out of the way sooner. I did have a faculty advisor those first two years, who was a lovely person, and a famous history professor. She knew little about science requirements, confessed as much, and then signed whatever assortment of subjects I put before her to approve.

“You must pick a major,” I was told. And so I picked English because it provided me with an antidote to all those heavy science classes. Reading was a merciful escape. So was writing. I was casual about that decision, though, because I was sure I was never going to use those skills.

Who knew?

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Flying? Are we really flying? Well, sure, why not, right? Everyone else is flying.

Wait, then again, everyone else seems to be flying. What if one of those other people is sick? Don’t think too much about it and breathe through your nose. Oh, you can’t because the two masks you’re wearing are pinching your nose? Well, tough! 

They’re serving drinks and cookies? People have to lower their masks to eat and drink, right? So, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of mandatory masks? Look away from everyone who’s breathing. Yeah, that’ll help.

Okay, finally, we’re on the ground. 

Hey, this is a nice campus. The sidewalks are packed and filled with so much energy, not all of which is positive.

“Why are all these $#@! parents here this weekend? I have several tests and I don’t need them all staring at me!”

That girl is sharing her academic anxiety with her friend and anyone else within 100 feet of her. Subtle, real subtle! Tempted as I am to let her know that parents, likely including her own, make this sometimes miserable experience possible, I refrain. She might be my son’s current or future friend.

I ask two students for the location of a building. The first shrugs and points me in the wrong direction and the second nearly draws a map. Okay, one for two.

I sit just in time for the start of a talk by successful alumni, who connect their careers to the lessons they learned at school. Clever marketing! Other parents chuckle at the jokes. I imagine these parents as college students. In my mind, the presenters onstage become Broadway performers. Each of the two men and two women, which I presume is a well-planned balance of genders, does his or her rendition of “how I succeeded,” with the subtext, just feet from the school president, of, “keep paying those tuitions!”

When the session ends, the phone rings. It’s my son! He’s strolling across a lawn. Wait, is that really him? Much as I want to run over and squeeze him, I play it cool, congratulating myself on my impulse control. Well done, Dan. You haven’t embarrassed him so far, but the weekend is young yet, even if you are not. He adjusts his hair, a move I’ve seen him and almost all his friends do frequently, even while running back and forth on a basketball court. What’s with all the hair adjustment? I quietly ask for permission to hug him. Yay! He agrees. I wrap my arms around his shoulders and fight the urge to pick him up, which is probably best for my back.

As we head to his dorm, he tells me he hasn’t done laundry in nine days. I don’t know whether that’s a hint, as in, “Dad, while you’re here…” or a statement of fact.

We part company and I learn about the evolving world of the commercialization of college athletes, who can use their name, image and likeness to make money. He’s listening to a psychology lecture about, who else, Sigmund Freud.

At a football game, I wonder how it can be this cold in Louisiana. Aren’t we in the deep south? We leave before it’s over, waiting in the cool air for 11 minutes for an expensive Uber — they must know it’s parents weekend — to take two families who are heading back to the same hotel.

10 pm. Who eats this late? I’m usually half way to sleep by now. My older brother is undoubtedly already in REM sleep. My stomach is going to hate this. Shut up stomach!

Looking around the table at these families, one thing is clear: these parents adore their children.

This is part of the story of how these boys got here and, hopefully, will help them continue to learn lessons, like how to dress for a cold football game and how to make reservations in advance before a busy parents weekend so we can eat earlier.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Last Friday around 10:30 am, our son, who just arrived at his freshman dorm 12 days earlier, asked how quickly I could get him on a flight back home.

I dropped what I was doing and searched for flights out of New Orleans. We knew he was in the path of Hurricane Ida and had been hoping, as Long Island had done the week before with Hurricane Henri, that he and the city would somehow avoid the worst of the storm.

His college had provided regular updates, indicating that the forecasts called for the storm to hit 90 miles to their west. That would mean they’d get heavy rain and some wind, but that the storm, strong as it might become, might not cause the same kind of devastation as Hurricane Katrina had exactly 16 years earlier.

By Friday, two days before its arrival, my son, many of his friends, and his friends’ parents were scrambling to get away from the Crescent City amid reports that the storm was turning more to the east.

Fortunately, we were able to book a mid-day flight the next day. An hour later, he texted me and said he might want to stay on campus during the storm, the way a few of his other friends were doing. I ignored the message.

Two hours later, he asked if he still had the plane reservation and said he was happy he’d be leaving.

Later that Friday, another classmate tried unsuccessfully to book a flight, as the scramble to leave the city increased.

My wife and I became increasingly concerned about his ride to the airport, which, on a normal day, would take about 30 minutes. We kept pushing the time back for him to leave, especially when we saw images of crowded roadways.

He scheduled an Uber for 9:30. On Saturday morning at 6 a.m. his time, he texted and asked if he should go with a friend who was leaving at 9 and had room in his car. Clearly, he wasn’t sleeping too much, either.

I urged him to take the earlier car, which would give him more time in case traffic was crawling. He got to the airport well before his flight and waited for close to two hours to get through a packed security line.

When his plane was finally in the air, my wife and I breathed a sigh of relief. We both jumped out of the car at the airport to hug him and welcome him home, even though we had given him good luck hugs only two weeks earlier at the start of college.

After sharing his relief at being far from the storm, he told us how hungry he was. The New Orleans airport had run low on food amid the sudden surge of people fleeing the city. After he greeted our pets, who were thrilled to see him, he fell into a salad, sharing stream-of-consciousness stories.

The next day, he received numerous short videos from friends who stayed during the storm. While we’d experienced hurricanes before, the images of a transformer sparking and then exploding, videos of rooms filling with water from shattered windows, and images of water cascading through ceilings near light fixtures were still shocking.

He will be home for at least six weeks, as the city and the school work to repair and rebuild infrastructure. During that time, he will return to the familiar world of online learning, where he and new friends from around the country and world will work to advance their education amid yet another disruption from a routine already derailed by COVID-19.

We know how fortunate he was to get out of harm’s way and how challenging the rebuilding process will be for those who live in New Orleans. When he returns to campus, whenever that may be, we know he will not only study for his classes, but that he and his classmates will also contribute to efforts to help the community and city recover from the storm.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We packed our bags full of dreams, hopes, clothing and cliches and took our son to college. We pondered the journey, which is really what’s it’s all about, and not the destination.

My wife and I were bursting with pride, thinking about the shining light that is our son.

We wondered what advice we could offer before we returned to a house that would feel so empty without him. We thought a good rule of thumb might be to avoid harebrained ideas, although we knew we could do better at preparing him for future dark and stormy nights.

As he took his first steps onto his new campus, we encouraged him to discover the world and himself at the same time.

We shared the butterflies that fluttered among our four stomachs. Like a good soldier in our family’s mission, his sister joined us for this momentous occasion, prepared to offer her version of older sibling advice and to help find whatever item he might need in a college dorm he is sharing with a stranger he’d chosen from a grab bag of potential roommates.

As we followed the move-in directions to a tee, we could feel the electricity in the air. We drove up to an official behind a desk, who was all ears listening to him spell a last name chock full of vowels.

With bated breath and sweaty palms, we waited with every fiber of our beings until she found him on the list. We breathed a sigh of relief when she found his name and handed him a key that would open his dorm room to a new world of possibilities. As a freshman, he knew he was no longer the big man on campus he had been during his pandemic-altered senior year.

Once inside his dorm, we got down to the business of unpacking. We debated where to put his shoes even as he stared out the window, considering where he might plant his feet.

Recognizing that time was of the essence, we spring to life while unpacking his room. Standing apart in a small room full of wonders, we drew strength from our collective mission.

Slowly but surely, we removed the contents of his boxes, creating order from the chaos despite a few moments when we felt like we were all thumbs. We lined all his ducks in a row, creating neat rows of pencils, pens and notebooks on his desk and boxers, shorts, tee shirts and socks in his drawers.

After we prepared his room, we wiped the sweat from our brow, reminding him that this effort was but a drop in the bucket of the work he’d need to do in college.

We assured him he could bet his bottom dollar he wouldn’t feel like a babe in the woods or a fish out of water for long.

We could almost hear the angelic chords as the sun set in the west, where it always sets because that’s the way the cookie crumbles, or, rather, the earth rotates.

Before we left him in his new home away from home, we exchanged embraces and urged him to dance to the beat of his own drum.

We also suggested he find a healthy way to blow off steam, to recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats, to swim when it was time to sink or swim, and to play his cards right.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

In my daily conversations with a range of people over the last week, I have heard stories I thought I’d share, as a reflection of the reality of our lives.

The first involved a discussion with Joe about his vaccination. Joe had been trying to sign up for a COVID vaccination for weeks. He thought he’d landed a coveted vaccination appointment at Jones Beach. Driving out there for a 6 p.m. appointment, he drove in circles.

The site had the wrong address, he said. In addition, even the correct address, which had a phone on-site that wasn’t working, naturally, was closed that day because the winds were too high.

“Who would put tents up on Jones Beach?” Joe asked, his voice barely rising but his frustration evident from the time wasted trying to get a vaccination that would allow him to do a job that required interacting with the public. “If you want to build a tent, put it somewhere that’s not as windy. It wasn’t even snowing.”

Fortunately, Joe, who spent more time the next day sharing his experience with a vaccination operator, was able to schedule a make-up appointment much closer to home.

The next day, I spoke with Matthew, who is worrying about his son Jim, who is a sophomore in college. Jim, you see, has already received a COVID warning. A second warning or infraction could send his son home, which would, as Matthew put it, “not be good for anybody.”

As it turns out, Jim has a girlfriend, Sarah. Normally, that wouldn’t be such a cause for concern for his parents or for the university. Still, with his girlfriend living in a different penitentiary, I mean, dormitory, Jim is not allowed to visit with Sarah.

The problem is that Sarah, who is an excellent and committed student, not only works hard at school, but also inspires Jim to expend considerable additional academic effort.

If Jim stops seeing Sarah, which he may do to comply with school rules designed to protect the campus from spreading the dangerous virus, he will miss time with his close friend, while he will also likely not study as hard.

My friend Matthew advised Jim to be careful and comply with the rules, although I could tell that he felt his own return on the investment he spends for college will likely be higher if Jim spends more time with his studious friend.

Finally, I spoke with Paul, a friend who regularly attended conferences before COVID shut all those events down. Paul traveled at least four times a year to meetings all over the world, visiting interesting places but, more importantly, speaking with people in his field.

One day in 2019, Paul was sitting in one such conference and was taking notes. As the conference ended, he and the man sitting next to him, whom he’d never met, struck up a conversation. The man suggested a follow-up effort to the work that might help the industry. Realizing he had the ability to do exactly what the stranger suggested, Paul asked if the man would mind if he used the idea. The stranger was delighted and a friendship, and an idea, was born.

I asked Paul how much he missed conferences and if he planned to attend them when the world reopened.

He said he would not only jump at the chance, but might even attend conferences he wouldn’t have previously considered, just to benefit from such random and potentially beneficial interactions. His only hesitation is that he hasn’t gotten his vaccination yet. He wondered what I thought about driving out to Jones Beach.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Most of us like to try to peer into the future and see what may lie ahead. That’s one attraction of a world’s fair and of futurist books. One such popular book of half a century ago was “Future Shock,” by Alvin Toffler, which dealt with how people can adapt to changes and even embrace them. During this coronavirus pandemic, the first such in 100 years, consensus seems to be that life will be changed after the disease ends, that this is a defining moment in
our history.

But how will things change?

A columnist for The New York Times, David Leonhardt, tried to provide a few answers this past Sunday in his article entitled. “It’s 2022. What does life look like?” Here is some of what he has to say that you and I can probably agree with, understanding that the timing of a vaccine can, in turn, alter the most clairvoyant of predictions.

Many traditional department stores will disappear. Already weakened by specialty stores like Home Depot or discount stores like Costco, the one-stop of Sears and J.C. Penny have been bypassed by shoppers, who have also embraced the convenience of the internet. Walmart and Amazon are among the world’s richest public companies today. Retailers in general have been stricken by the consumer move to online shopping. As investment guru Warren Buffett has been often quoted, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Retail stores that have just managed to hang on will now experience a death blow. This could be devastating for shopping malls that depend on retailers’ rent. Of course, after a vaccine frees people to go shopping as something more like recreation, those retailers who provide an “experience” along with their goods for sale will have a better chance of surviving and even thriving. The demise of small retailers will have a huge impact on villages and unemployment, I believe. Many residents across the country work in their local stores.

Another change will be in higher education, according to Leonhardt. Dozens of colleges, private and public, despite being heavily subsidized by government, are in trouble. There are a couple of reasons. While college enrollment has pretty consistently been growing in the United States since the Civil War, in the last decade undergraduate numbers have fallen, the result of fewer births and, I believe, of a reconsideration of the value of pricey college education. Colleges have lost the revenue from summer school, from food service and parking fees. Of greatest concern is the imminent reduction of state aid due to stricken state budgets. The big question now is whether colleges will be able to bring back students for fall classes. If they cannot return, revenue is likely to drop sharply. Remote learning was not as successful or satisfying as was hoped. This could have severe implications for the educational level of the next generation of Americans.

The positive side of the remote coin can be found among white collar workers, many of whom will prefer to work at least part of the week from home in the future. There will be less business commuting, less travel with attendant fatigue, less cost. But that will negatively affect commercial real estate, the airlines and hotels.

The third at-risk industry, in Leonhardt’s view is local newspapers. “Between 2008 and 2019, American newspapers eliminated about half of all newsroom jobs. The virus has led to more job cuts — and could end up forcing dozens more papers to fold … If that happens, their cities will be left without perhaps the only major source of information about local politics, business, education and the like.” To what end? “Corruption and political polarization tend to rise while voter turnout tends to fall,” says Leonhardt. In short, the community begins to shrivel.

The solution, as we see the future, is to embrace change and make it work for us. That is why we here at the local newspapers are also the popular news website, tbrnewsmedia.com with almost 150,000 unique viewers a month. We are the sponsors of several social platforms and the innovators of such valued print products as the 2020 graduation supplement and the TBR Artists Coloring Book released in the last month alone. With, and only with your support, we at Times Beacon Record News Media are here to stay.

Right, Laura Burns of Nesconset just recently graduated from St. Joseph’s College, though she finds her job prospects diminished due to the pandemic; left, Matthew Hoth of Miller Place said he was unable to do his internship at a mental health care facility due to COVID-19. right photo by Claudia Reed; left photo from Hoth

Recent college graduates on Long Island are faced with uncertainty as they begin to pursue their respective careers. Their 2020 graduating class will encounter a number of challenges as they enter one of the most daunting job markets, not seen since the Great Recession of 2008. 

Not only did the COVID-19 crisis truncate their last semesters of college, it stripped them of graduation ceremonies. It put jobs, internships and other opportunities on standby. Some local graduates are being forced to adapt and stay sharp while they wait for the job market to rebound. 

Nesconset resident Laura Burns, who recently graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue with a political science degree, said when the pandemic hit it felt like “everything was spiraling out of control.” 

“A lot of my classmates, myself included, lost a lot of local opportunities because of COVID-19.”

— Matthew Hoth

“I remember taking my last midterm and then they canceled all classes before spring break. We didn’t even get a last goodbye,” she said. “It felt like we were forgotten.”

Burns was disappointed that she could have a proper graduation ceremony, saying it would have been a special moment for her and her family, as her mother also graduated from the college.  

The St. Joseph’s grad had to rethink her initial future plans. 

“Before COVID hit I was thinking about maybe pursuing a graduate school or law school — that’s what I felt was the practical thing to do,” she said. “Even if I wanted to try to get a job in political science it would be pretty difficult right now.”

Burns said some of her friends have gotten part-time jobs working at grocery stores for the time being. 

Potential short-term options such as working at a restaurant or other retailers are unavailable, as Suffolk County is only in Phase One of the reopening process. Most retailers will be able to reopen more during Phase Two. Restaurants will have to wait even longer. 

Burns said she will most likely plan on taking classes at Suffolk Community College and could continue to pursue acting, something she has done since she was younger. 

This past February, the job market looked promising with employers adding 273,000 new positions, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor. 

Just last week, more than 2 million U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits, according to a U.S. Department of Labor weekly report. It brought the total number of jobs lost to over 40 million. 

Matthew Hoth of Miller Place, who graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a master’s degree in data analytics, is trying to stay optimistic and positive about his future job prospects. 

“A lot of my classmates, myself included, lost a lot of local opportunities because of COVID-19,” he said. 

Hoth had an internship lined up with a local health and mental health care facility, but that all changed when the coronavirus hit.  

“I had talks with them for a while, I was really looking forward to interning there,” the recent graduate said. 

In addition, his last semester was going to be used to network and make connections in his field. He and his peers missed out on attending workshops that could have brought him face to face with potential employers. 

“I had some leads on some jobs locally, but then everything kind of stopped dead in its tracks,” Hoth said. “Right now, I’m trying to get more program certifications to add to my resume and updating my LinkedIn [account].”

To fill the void of the internship and in an effort to add some work experience to his resume, Hoth is considering freelancing, special projects and working remotely.  

“With companies cutting and laying off people it is discouraging to see,” he said. “But I’m optimistic that the economy and job market will eventually bounce back,” he said. 

Victoria Arcuri

Victoria Arcuri of Holbrook, a recent graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology, was looking forward to starting a full-time position at a creative agency in New York City she had interned at during her last semester of school. Due to the effects of the pandemic, the agency had to put her postgraduation hiring on hold but extended her internship. 

“My boss was like, ‘right now we are not in the position to hire you, but there is still a possibility for a full-time position,’” she said. “Without COVID, I’d have a full-time job right now.”

“I remember taking my last midterm and then they canceled all classes before spring break. We didn’t even get a last goodbye.”

— Laura Burns

Due to social distancing restrictions, Arcuri, who studied graphic design, and her fellow classmates also missed out on other potential professional opportunities. Their senior exhibition, an event where students get the chance to present their portfolio in front of professors and professionals in the industry, was instead held online this year. 

“At first I was disappointed, but I realized there were worse things going on than not having the show,” Arcuri said. 

After commuting to school for the majority of her college career, the FIT grad had hopes of moving to Brooklyn once she started her full-time job. Those plans have now been stalled as well. 

The Holbrook resident said if she can’t secure a full-time position with the agency, she’ll look for other options in the short term.  Freelancing and contract work could be a possibility, given a potential business climate where there is more work done remotely. 

At her internship, presentations and meetings with clients are done through Zoom and they can send most of the things they’re working on via email. 

“In graphic design we do most of our work on a computer or on our laptops, so it wouldn’t be too bad if I worked from home,” Arcuri said. “Though if I had a choice I’d prefer to be in a studio.”

She reiterated that many college grads are a bit scared about their own futures.  

“Some companies and businesses might not come back the same, a lot of them have taken a big hit and that will affect us,” Arcuri said.

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

To address the critical shortfall of skilled young and beginning farmers and ranchers, congressional leaders, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), introduced June 13 the Young Farmer Success Act. If adopted, the bill would encourage careers in agriculture, by adding farmers and ranchers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes teachers, nurses, first responders and other public service professions. Under the program, eligible public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments can have the balance of their loans forgiven.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during an interview at TBR News Media. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Our country’s farmers are part of the backbone of our nation, and while they are critical to ensuring American families have food to put on the table, all too often the next generation of farmers is finding that a career in agriculture makes it difficult to put food on their own table,” Zeldin said. “After graduating college, aspiring farmers are saddled with crippling student loan debt and the daunting costs of agricultural businesses, oftentimes driving them from a career feeding our country.” 

The new legislation will allow the next generation of farmers to pursue a career serving the American people, eliminating the disincentive to study agriculture in school and getting them on the farm when they graduate.

Farming is an expensive business to enter, in part because of skyrocketing land prices. Young and beginning farmers often see small profits or even losses in their first years of business. With the majority of existing farmers nearing retirement age, and very few young people entering the farming or ranching profession, America is beginning to face an agricultural crisis. Since the Dust Bowl, the federal government has taken steps to support farmers, and the Young Farmer Success Act supports farmers through a different approach — finding a tangible pathway to pay off student loans that will offer incentives to a new generation of career farmers.

“Eighty-one percent of the young farmers who responded to our 2017 national survey hold a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree,” Martin Lemos, National Young Farmers Coalition interim executive director, said. “This means there is a very small population of beginning farmers without student loan debt. With the average age of farmers now nearing 60 years, and farmers over 65 outnumbering those under 35 by 6:1, we need to do more for the next generation of farmers to succeed. We are grateful for the bill’s bipartisan champions, Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT), Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-PA), Josh Harder (D-CA) and Lee Zeldin. With the support of Congress, we will encourage those who wish to pursue a career in farming to serve their country by building a brighter future for U.S. agriculture.”

In 2011, National Young Farmers Coalition conducted a survey of 1,000 young farmers and found 78 percent of respondents struggled with a lack of capital. A 2014 follow-up survey of 700 young farmers with student loan debt found that the average burden of student loans was $35,000. The same study also found 53 percent of respondents are currently farming, but have a hard time making their student loan payments and another 30 percent are interested in farming, but haven’t pursued it as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn’t be enough to cover their student loan payments.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Probably the worst part of the fraud committed by parents to get their children into top colleges is the message it sends to their children. The parents are saying plainly that the children are not capable of succeeding on their own. Regardless of what they may have told their children, actions speak louder than words, and these parents have demonstrated that in order to succeed, one has to lie, cheat, bribe and otherwise con one’s way to the goal. 

And what is the goal here? Just getting into college, not making a million-dollar deal or getting on Easy Street for life. Yes, a college degree usually helps a person to get a better job. It also supposedly helps that person to become a more developed human. But a college graduate is merely on the threshold of the rest of his or her life, with no guarantees of any sort except the number of years one has spent in schools.

There are colleges considered top tier, but they promise nothing more than a sheepskin if one passes all the requisite courses. Are the professors better in a top-tier college? One might think that. Or one might suspect that some of the big name faculty use postgraduate teaching assistants to do the daily teaching with little student contact while they do research, travel to give lectures and win grants, contributing to the university’s standing more than to that of the students’ education. A top college degree might be a good name to drop in social circles, but in a long life performance is ultimately what counts.

Who gets the benefit of that name? Is it the child? Or is it the parents when relating the successes of their offspring? I remember a cartoon in one of the magazines about the time my children were going through that nerve-racking period of receiving acceptances — and rejections. In the center of the cartoon was the back of a car, with a close-up of the rearview window. And at the bottom left corner of the window, proudly displayed, was the sticker of the desired college, followed by the words, “also accepted in” with the other top-tier college stickers paraded across the width of the glass. Exactly whose victory was that touting? Why, that of the parents, of course. Many of the kids probably didn’t have a car or couldn’t even drive yet.

Now let’s be honest here. Some parents have always tried to help their kids succeed, whether by throwing in a hand with the eighth-grade science project or polishing French pronunciation. And those parents who could afford it have sometimes made lavish donations to colleges in the hopes of aiding the admissions process. But those donations, if they build a new room for the library or contribute to the purchase of equipment in the lab, ultimately help many students. Most important, they are visible and not dishonest. And whether we like it or not, people with more money sometimes use their money to their own advantage. Even the ability to pay for tutoring for the SATs divides the students into the haves and the have-nots. But that’s not illegal.

The other truism is this. Whether in college or in life or just inputting on a computer, garbage in means garbage out. If a student is committed and diligent about studying in college, and there are many good colleges in this country, that student will benefit from the college experience. The opposite is also true. It doesn’t so much matter where one goes to college, but rather what one gets from the college in addition to the piece of paper documenting one’s attendance and tuition payments.

My granddaughter is a high school senior this year and waiting to hear where she will go for the next four years. We all are waiting to hear with her. She has already received acceptances so she knows she will be a college student by fall. Wherever she goes, she will get there honestly and because of the exceptional person that she is. We are so proud of her.