Occupy Graduation: Students Shackle Themselves to Debt
Occupy Colleges, a group that stands in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, has been encouraging students across the nation to occupy their graduation to raise awareness about student debt. Occupy Colleges has been sending students inflatable debt balls and chains to wear as they walk in their graduation ceremonies. The group has also been encouraging students to write their debt amount on their graduation caps.
Students nationwide are taking part in the action. In the University of Southern Maine, students even held a banner drop during Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe’s commencement speech. It read: "Debt Scammers Should Not Be Commencement Speakers."
Ivonne Quiroz was one of several San Francisco State University graduates to wear a ball and chain during her graduation ceremony in May. On the ball, Quiroz wrote $21,586 — the amount of her student loan debt. Quiroz said teachers and fellow students were very supportive of her actions. For the next eight weeks she will be a paid community organizer, but after that, she will be looking for full-time employment.
“If I don’t get a job, I’ll probably end up doing what a lot of my other friends have done in the past, go back to doing retail or waiting tables,” Quiroz said. “Unfortunately that’s kind of like what a lot of graduates are doing now — continuing to do the job you were doing in college.”
Quiroz said the idea of paying her student loans back is daunting.
“Not only do you have to pay rent and food … you have to pay this loan off, which I took out to have a wider variety of job opportunities and a career, but unfortunately that’s just not the case right now,” she said.
In April, U.S. student loan debt exceeded $1 trillion, surpassing credit card debt. Meanwhile, according to a Rutgers University Report, only 51 percent of 2006-2011 graduates have full-time jobs.
Occupy Colleges’ Occupy Student Debt coordinator Kyle McCarthy said the goal of Occupy Graduation is to increase public awareness concerning this mounting issue.
“We’re really faced with this problem that is really no fault of our own; we’re just doing what we’re told,” McCarthy said. “It’s not necessarily our responsibility to come up with the solution, this problem was put on us .The people that put it on us should figure it out. There’s not one specific demand, it’s really to highlight the issue that so many different people are being affected in so many different ways.”