Heather Taylor stood among more than 1,000 Southeast Missouri State University students in the Student Recreation Center waiting for Saturday's commencement ceremony to begin.
"I've been looking forward to this day since I started," said Taylor, a Park Hills, Mo., student in business management.
Taylor said she is willing to work in fast food or retail to gain the management experience that could translate to corporate employment. Because she is struggling with her job search, Taylor is considering moving out of the area to increase her chances of finding employment.
"With the way things are going in the job market, I don't see anything opening up," she said.
The state of the economy was an undertone of the commencement address at the Show Me Center, in which 1,032 graduates and undergraduates received their degrees. But the speaker, St. Louis businessman David Steward, was optimistic.
"What a time for innovation," said Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology. "What a time to think differently."
He said this generation of college graduates will bring newer and brighter solutions to economic challenges.
"So whatever profession you're looking into, you're graduating at a great time in history," he said.
They are also graduating at a time of higher unemployment for people their age.
In April, the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 13.7 percent, compared to 8.9 percent overall, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed 19.7 percent of 2009 college graduates who applied for a job received one. In 2008, 26 percent of students reported they had a job upon graduation, compared to 51 percent in 2007.
Southeast students in all majors are struggling to find jobs upon graduation, said Brenda Harper, a career counselor at the university.
"They're getting jobs; it's just taking them much longer to do that," she said.
Harper said students have to be more aggressive and willing to be move for jobs to increase their chances of employment. Employers are being more selective, so students are preparing with more mock interviews and by taking a critical look at their resumes, she said.
"The employers do have the choice to hire the very best," Harper said.
She said more underclassmen are looking into internships to secure better job prospects.
Kayla Deguire of St. Louis said completing an internship in ad sales increased her marketability. She said she will finish her degree in marketing management after taking summer classes and already has employment offers. Summer graduates are allowed to participate in spring commencement.
Her major, she said, did give her an advantage in the job market.
"In sales, they always need help," Deguire said.
Emily Sparzynski of Jackson received her degree in social work. She said she is having a hard time finding local employment working with the elderly, her chosen field.
"I just can't find anything around here," she said. "I'm going to have to move. I've come to that realization."
But, as she waited to file into the Show Me Center for graduation, she said she was ready to put her college education to work.
"I would love to get out there in the real world doing what I want with my degree," she said.
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