My graduation ceremony was rather unceremonious. No silk robes, no shaking the hand of someone I know I should recognise, no gingerly throwing my square cap in the air and trying not to damage it so I can get my rental deposit back.

I studied by correspondence for the entirety of my degree, so my graduation consisted of sending off my final assignment, emailing my department head and informing her of my absence (something she was used to given I had never stepped foot on campus), and waiting six to eight weeks for my degree to be mailed to me. Four years of mental, physical and psychic exhaustion culminated in receiving a (bent) Do Not Bend envelope containing four pieces of paper.

It all came about rather unexpectedly. I’d been studying for so long that something was always due; some deadline was always looming, ready to make me feel guilty for every second not spent working towards it. It just became natural to have an assignment or nine ready to be submitted the next morning.

That was my life. So, waking up in December last year to find nothing ‘due’ was like finding myself without my appendix: I didn’t really notice but I knew something was different. Without the fanfare of a graduation ceremony, I think the importance of the situation was lost on me. What I didn’t realise was that I was about to take the next step into Big Boy-hood – those four pieces of official-looking paper were the brand new shoes I’d been given just for this moment. (Those ones with lights built into the heels and Velcro laces.)

“So,” I thought to myself with my new-found accreditation and knowledge. “What happens now?”

Fuck all, as it turns out.

I was under no delusions that my bachelor of arts, with a double major in philosophy and literature, would propel me into the upper echelons of academia, or a financial institution, or even a managerial role at any of the fast food joints used as punch lines about philosophers’ career options. But I didn’t expect the job pool to dry up and leave one tiny anaemic fish staring back at me; flapping its tail and gasping for air as it offered me a door-to-door sales job.

It turns out there is a big difference between being a 21-year-old student, looking for part-time work and some extra cash, and a 25-year-old graduate looking for a position that offers stability and room to grow. I have never had so many rejections for roles in my life. Prior to this, I’d secured practically every job I’d ever applied for – aside from one rejection from EB Games which I’m totally over and still not bitter about because why would a 17-year-old want to work at a video game store anyway? – but now I’m being told that my application is not being processed; or worse still, I’m just not being told.

It really does a number on your confidence. We all go through phases where our self esteem is a bit mangled, but try having Jenny from Xenith Direct Sales and Marketing confirm that you are indeed a piece of shit, and not what they’re looking for in a telemarketer. I understand that when I left university I didn’t leave with definable skills in particular areas for specific roles, but surely having a degree at least means I can be relied upon, doesn’t it? That I can apply myself, think critically and independently?

“So,” I thought to myself with my new-found accreditation and knowledge. “What happens now?”

Fuck all, as it turns out.

Then again, maybe if I could do those things I wouldn’t be applying for ‘Sales Assistant at PRIVATE EMPLOYER WITHOLDS NAME’ on Gumtree. While a depressing thought, the fact that I thought of it at all at least shows me that my unit in critical thinking paid off.

The thing is, even if I could go back and get a different degree, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I love philosophy; I have a genuine passion for it, and I love what tertiary study has done for me. Not for my employability, but for my mind.

I love the way I think now. Applying what I’ve learnt at university means I can be handed a piece by Miranda Devine, and, instead of just feeling like the article is complete bullshit, I can read the first statement and see that it’s using argumentum ad ignorantian; notice the second paragraph is a statement that’s affirming the consequence; and, finally, see that the contrapositive to her conclusion is obviously untrue, thus leaving it logically untenable. I can therefore know that the article is complete bullshit.

Instead of wondering how I feel about someone’s behaviour towards a friend of mine, I simply tick through Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative and feel obliged to consider their actions are that of a complete arsehole.

Peter Singer has helped clarify my thoughts about vegetarianism; Sam Harris has made me reconsider my stance towards criminals; and the late Professor David Malet Armstrong of South Australia has redefined the very foundations of my being by making me re-think just who I think I am thinking of when I think I am thinking of who I think I am. I think.

And no, just because I have fun new ways of thinking doesn’t mean I believe I’m entitled to walk into a position of authority in state politics or marketing; and yes, I am aware that I need to work harder and smarter if I want to ‘use’ this degree. But so does anyone else. Just because something can’t be measured economically doesn’t mean it has no ‘worth’, which seems to be the most popular argument against studying the arts. That might be your own view, but perhaps if you had studied philosophy you’d be aware of the ‘is-ought dilemma’ and we wouldn’t need to be having this conversation.

University shouldn’t be compulsory, but I can honestly say that graduating was one of the most rewarding and satisfying things I’ve ever done for myself. Even if I didn’t notice when it happened.


Mitch Alexander is a 25-year-old left-wing, vegetarian, atheist, utilitarian metal head, stand up comedian and philosophy major who hates labels. When he isn’t being politely ignored at dinner parties he’s usually being politely ignored on comedy stages across Australia.

Stories from the Ivory Tower is an online series of creative non-fiction essays that draw their inspiration from academia. These commissions are made possible through the University of Melbourne’s Cultural and Community Relations Advisory Group (CCRAG).