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Brunch with Bridge

Welcome to Brunch with Bridge!
Every Sunday, you'll find in this space one or more guest columns by interesting Michigan residents with something interesting to say about life in our state. We hope you'll find it a place to stop by regularly, read, and comment.

Children’s departure is part of the cycle of life

GOODBYE, FOR NOW: Michigan frets about the departure of young people after college, but it’s important to remember that such leavings are a typical rite, says Brunch with Bridge columnist John Schneider. (courtesy photo/used under Creative Commons license)

GOODBYE, FOR NOW: Michigan frets about the departure of young people after college, but it’s important to remember that such leavings are a typical rite, says Brunch with Bridge columnist John Schneider. (courtesy photo/used under Creative Commons license)

I reared my children to be independent and adventuresome, and look what happened: They became independent and adventuresome — and left Michigan. So, when Fathers’ Day rolls around, I must settle for phone calls and cards, and take a rain check on the hugs and kisses. I don’t complain too much; they’re all self-sufficient, while remaining emotionally tethered to home.

Can I play the brain-drain card? Can I blame Michigan’s economy? Can I say that, in their search for meaningful work, my kids had no choice but to leave the state? Not really.

I guess I could make a case that if my older son had landed a better journalism job right out of Michigan State University, he might have stuck around Michigan, but the entry-level gig he got never led to anything better and he fled to Indiana, and, eventually, got out of journalism altogether. That’s more of an industry problem than a Michigan problem. And when it comes right down to it, the real reason he’s working in Indianapolis today is that his wife is a Hoosier.

As for the younger two, they graduated from the University of Michigan with distant horizons already in their view-finders. They weren’t going to stay in Michigan anyway — at least not until they did some exploring elsewhere. The boy followed a woman to Los Angeles. He remains there, when he’s not in Austin, or Amsterdam, touring with his band. The daughter, in search of a non-Michigan adventure, followed her brother out to the coast, then bolted for New York City, her current home.

In other words, college graduates hit the road for a lot of different reasons — love interests, the lure of big-city lights, better weather, a change of scenery and plain old-fashioned wanderlust. Why not? What better time to see what the rest of the world has to offer than right out of college, before the serous adult responsibilities take hold? And while it’s true that Michigan has not been fertile ground for new job-seekers, we shouldn’t be too surprised when our young folks come out of college eager to test their wings. They’ve been doing so since the Prodigal Son.

Reporting for MLive recently, Melissa Anders dissected a Detroit Regional Chamber study analyzing the mobility of the 2012 graduates of Michigan’s 15 public universities. Although those schools handed out more than 66,000 degrees last year, the study zeroed in on single, U.S.-born May graduates 28 years old, or younger, and not currently pursuing other degrees.

Sixty-three percent of those graduates — 83 percent of whom attended high school in the state — are still living in Michigan, 35 percent moved to another state and less than 2 percent left the country. That’s actuality a noteworthy jump in the number of stayers over the past five years. In 2007 a similar study showed that only 51 percent of the target group remained in Michigan six months after graduating from college.

Significantly, a good chunk of those who leave — 38 percent — go to Illinois, California and New York. They probably don’t all seek their fortunes in Chicago, LA and NYC, but I would guess that the majority do.

That’s the other problem Michigan has: For graduates looking for an urban experience, Michigan has … Detroit. Yes, Grand Rapids and Lansing try hard to deliver a big-city flavor, but they’re no Chicago. As for Detroit, well, as a native of that perpetually beleaguered city (Cody High School, Wayne State University) it kills me to say this, but it’s just not a shining city on a hill.

Once again, we’re hearing talk of some green sprouts of revitalization on Detroit’s blighted landscape. If, and when, the city can accomplish the renaissance it has promised for so long, Michigan college graduates will be more likely to include Detroit on their list of possibilities.

When I graduated from Wayne in 1973, I created a family scandal by accepting a job on a newspaper in Ohio. People in my family didn’t leave Michigan. In fact, they didn’t leave Detroit. My mother actually phoned my boss at the Detroit Free Press (I worked as a copy boy while in college) and scolded him for not offering me a reporting job, and, thus, forcing me into exile in Ohio — a whole 2 1/2 hours from Detroit.

I wasn’t trying to leave Michigan particularly, nor was I trying to stay; I had worked out my wanderlust in two years on a Navy aircraft carrier, and just wanted to get my career going. I sent out a couple dozen resumes, and took the first offer that came along.

I came back to Michigan, so maybe my kid will, too. And if they don’t, well, at least they’re not living in my basement.

John Schneider wrote a daily column for the Lansing State Journal for 24 years, and is the author of “Waiting for Home: the Richard Prangley Story” and the play “Voice Mail.” His favorite part of brunch is the bloody Mary, which doesn’t affect his motivation to blog daily. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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