At Syracuse University, commencement had all the usual pomp but the circumstances have definitely changed. Today Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged as much.
"You're walking across this stage without knowing exactly what's gonna be on the other side," said Biden.
"You are graduating into a world of anxiety and uncertainty, but these are the moments you can embrace. Throughout the span of history, only a handful of us ever get a chance to actually shape the course of history."
The Class of 2009 is already learning about disappointment. Two years ago, half the graduating class had a full-time job lined up by now. This year, less than 20 percent do.
Major U.S. industries are struggling during the economic recession and journalism -- which had problems even before the economy collapsed -- has been one of the hardest hit. Syracuse student Bill Palka majored in journalism, only to graduate in a year when one newspaper after another is going bust. The Rocky Mountain News shut down earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune and Kansas City Star have suffered deep staff cuts and even the Boston Globe's union representatives have been locked in a dispute with the New York Times Co. over concessions the Times says are needed to keep the Globe operating.
"It gets a little bit annoying after a while actually -- hearing it from family members, friends," said Palka. "And I just kind of wanna say, 'You know, I get it. I know I'm graduating at a bad time,' you know? This isn't really news to me."
Communications major Tori Hornstein has a job, but it wasn't her first choice. She'll teach Spanish for Teach for America in the Washington, D.C., public school system. Like many in the Class of 2009, Hornstein opted for community service in part because those she'd hoped to work for aren't hiring.
"It wasn't so much rejection letters," she said, "as it was really regretful people saying, 'We have a hiring freeze,' or 'at this point we can't do it.'"
College graduation is always a time for celebration. But there's also always a sense that the party's over. For the Class of 2009 that's especially true.
Students are graduating into the worst job market in a generation. After 16 consecutive months of jobs loss, unemployment stands at 8.9 percent, according to the latest Labor Department numbers released on Friday. The report said that 539,000 jobs were cut last month, but analysts actually were pleased the numbers weren't worse. There were fewer job cuts in April than in March, when 663,000 people were cut.
Triple major Jody Ellsworth has had a full-time job for four years, working as much as 60 hours a week to pay her way through school.
All that came to end with graduation today because she doesn't have a job. "It's gonna go from waking up at 5:30 to go to work to run to class to run to meetings and then back to work to waking up whenever I feel like it," said Ellsworth. "Being a couch potato laying around on my parents' sofa. I'm not looking forward to that."
Worst of all, six months from now when her student loans come due, she'll be $30,000 in debt. "What I will do now ... is anything. Absolutely anything. Any crap job that I can get I'm gonna take. Babysitting, working on cars. Whatever it takes."
Four years ago, these young men and women of Syracuse enrolled with high hopes. But things have changed.
There is, however, a silver lining for the Class of 2009. Veteran career counselors point out that in the long run, demographics are on their side. "Older workers are going to be retiring," said Chuck Reutlinger, associate director of the Center for Career Services at Syracuse University. "They need new people in the pipeline and so that's what students should take encouragement from."