Diplomas. Mortar boards. Champagne. Beaming parents. The “real world,” wide open and full of possibilities. And … unemployment.

I remember being a freshman in college and hearing about the wonderful world of glamorous post-graduation jobs. It was the fall of 1999, the peak of the America’s seemingly unending economic boom. Starry-eyed and completely nai”ve, I watched as consulting firms and investment banks, bursting at the seams to hire students, flooded the Dartmouth campus. The annual recruiting rush was a tradition at Dartmouth.

Boston and New York firms would send their youngest and hippest employees to entice graduating seniors with the career options and nifty logo-laden giveaways. You too can become an investment banker at Lehman Brothers, or a consulting guru at the Parthenon Group, or even a marketing magnate with Abercrombie or the NBA. And while you listen to our

recruiting pitch, take this logo mug, light-up bouncy ball, or this amazingly rare jewel-encrusted Mont Blanc pen. Times were, undoubtedly, very very good. As a freshman, I walked away with booty including a Credit Suisse First Boston retractable Ethernet cord and a massive Goldman Sachs bath towel more plush than anything sold at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

English majors were signing on as consultants without knowing what consultants actually do. Scribbling on the dotted line netted graduates a cushy salary, signing bonuses, relocation expenses, and a summer filled with dreams of a glamorous martini-soaked life. Even students who had entered school swearing that they would never “sell out” were lured into the corporate web with lucrative packages and easy promises. So this is what the real world is like, I told my freshman self.

In the three years since, we’ve all learned that life isn’t quite that easy. The dot-coms crashed with a depressing thud. In the spring of 2001 we heard whisperings of a recession, but we wanted to ignore the economic indicators. Then on that fateful morning in September, America came under siege and we began to reevaluate our priorities. At the same time, the Dow plummeted. Chameleon-like, the rosy gleam of post-graduation employment became a sallow yellow.

Over the past six months, I’ve watched double-majored-cum laude-Ivy League graduates struggle with new realities of post-graduation life. College students from coast to coast are facing the prospects of becoming unemployment statistics. Four years of intense academic studies, extensive co-curricular involvement, and in-depth internship experiences have netted them a glowing resume and a fancy diploma, but no job.

This year Time magazine ran a cover story darkly titled “Young and Jobless” and ominously cited statistics: among 16 to 24 year olds, unemployment rates have skyrocketed to twelve percent. Recently hired college graduates are among the first to be laid off. Moreover, the mysteriously lucrative field of consulting will be hiring a full 90% fewer graduates than it did last year.

And, according to the book Managing Generation Y, new college grads have earned a bit of a reputation for being wickedly smart, unrelentingly driven, tech-savvy, yet completely lacking in loyalty. We’re known as affluent job-jumpers, and it hasn’t helped our long-term marketability. For the first time in our short lives, the future appears a little unsettling.