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On a sunny Sunday not long ago, Sociology Professor Carr B. Lavell of George Washington University took one of his students on a fishing trip. He is a brilliant student, president of his class, a big man on campus, evidently with a bright future in his chosen field, medicine. In the bracing air, professor and student had a quiet talk. Why had he gone into medicine? asked the professor. Answer: medicine looked lucrative. What did he want to do as a doctor? Get into the specialty that offered biggest fees. Did he think that a doctor owed some special service to the community? Probably not. "I am just like anyone else," said the student. "I just want to prepare myself so that I can get the most out of it for me. I hope to make a lot of money in a hurry. I'd like to retire in about ten years and do the things I really want to do." And what are those? "Oh," said the brilliant student, "fishing, traveling, taking it easy."
Then they stopped talking, because the student had a nibble.
Perhaps more than any of its predecessors, this generation wants a good; secure job. This does not mean that it specifically fears a depression, as some aging New Dealers claim. The feeling is widespread that anyone who wants to work can find a decent job; the facts confirm that feeling (and the starting pay is better 'than ever). But youth's ambitions have shrunk. Few youngsters today want to mine diamonds in South Africa, ranch in Paraguay, climb Mount Everest, find a cure for cancer, sail around the world, or build an industrial empire. Some would like to own a small, independent business, but most want a good job with a big firm, and with it, a kind of suburban idyll.
An official of the placement bureau at Stanford University finds college graduates mostly interested in big companies-and choosy about which ones they will work for. "Half the time a guy will turn down a good job because he has to work in the city [meaning San Francisco]. They all figure there's no future in being holed up in a little apartment in town for ten years or getting up at 6 in the morning to commute to work and then not getting home until after dark. So they all want to work down on the peninsula where they can have a little house in the country and play golf or tennis and live the good life."
Says one youthful observer who still likes his dreams bigger: "This generation suffers from lack of worlds to conquer. Its fathers in a sense, did too well. Sure, there are slums left-but another Federal housing project can clean up the worst. Most of the fights in labor have simmered down to arguments around the bargaining table. Would-be heroes find themselves padded from har-and hope-like lunatics in a cell. In business, the tax structure, social security and pension plans promise to soften the blow of depression or personal misfortune-and forbid the building of new empires. In science there is the great corporation (or the Government) glad to furnish the expensive machinery now necessary for the smallest advance-and to give its name, or that of its group research boss, to the new process, while plowing back the profits. A man goes bounding, with no visible bruises, among the pads of an over-organized society."