From Nowhere to Networks

Deena Mueller

During his lecture on Tuesday, Adonal Foyle made an interesting assessment of U. S. politics. He summed up the need for campaign reform by arguing that America’s problem is that the NBA is fairer than elections. His point was that in sports everyone has to play by the same rules. You can’t buy your way into sports success. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what you have, or even who you know. As Foyle’s life demonstrates, the only thing that makes you successful in the NBA is hard work and talent. Not so true for politics anymore. As I thought about it, I realized that it is not so true of many things anymore.

It seems like today, success in life is no longer based on “what you know, but who you know,” or what you have. For over a century, Americans have been telling their children that they can do anything, as long as they work at it. Practice makes perfect, and once one achieves perfection, all doors open. There has always been a strong belief that success is attainable to anyone, regardless of their paycheck size or influential acquaintances. Willingness to put forth effort and ability were considered the chief ingredients to success.

Today, those aren’t sufficient. A modern recipe for success would probably include a letter of recommendation from someone with a high level of prestige or authority, a significant financial base (read wealth), and a pimped out five page resume, that includes a stint at a renown firm, even if it was just as a copy machine slave!

Since when did credentials like these become more indicative of potential than top academic performance? What happened to the American Dream? Millions of people moved to this country because of their belief that if they worked hard, they’d be greeted with success. Society today seems hung up on climbing the corporate ladder by means of friends in high places.

Even here at Colgate there is a strong emphasis on succeeding through the use of connections, just look at the numerous networking programs being put on by Career Services. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have all these networking programs; in fact, we must if Colgate wants be competitive in job placements and graduate school admissions. While it may be the way of the world now, it certainly makes me nostalgic for the good old days when you could rely solely on yourself and your own initiative to get ahead.

I want to go to law school, like my father. But unlike my father, who had to worry only about his GPA and the LSAT, I must also develop a relationship with the admissions counselors. I need a recommendation from someone with influence, probably an alumnus, and I have to intern as much as possible. Back in high school, I was so looking forward to college because I thought résumé building would no longer be important. I always hated those kids who joined every club just to put it on their college application. I thought that from Colgate onward I would be judged on my performance and capabilities, which I could improve through dedicated effort. How wrong I was!

I’m not morally opposed to the practices of networking and résumé padding, but I do think that it has created an uneven playing field. I may be able to use the Colgate connection, but what about others who are not so fortunate? As Adonal Foyle pointed out, the unfairness in government elections that has arisen from campaign contributions leads to poor governance and threatens democracy. Who knows what damage may come from the unfairness of making success contingent on networking, interning and financial opportunities?