Probably few generations of American students have agonized as much over what to do after college as those of us who were on campus during the late 60s.
Despite certain self-serving tendencies of The Movement, most of us had a belief that the world could be changed in any number of positive ways, and it was important to us to somehow be part of that process. To our generation, people who aspired to nothing more than making money had a way of seeming as dull as cattle grazing on a hillside, wanting nothing more than to eat their fill of grass.
But where could we go to make this change happen? Most real-world jobs, after all, are not primarily about effecting social transformation. We found it difficult to reconcile our ideals with the kinds of jobs that were available—or even with the kinds of things we just happened to like doing.
For my own part, I made a serious pursuit of a potential career in car design. In almost any other age, this would have been something that could have simply been enjoyed for its own sake—creating objects of beauty and utility, which were also in a very real sense alive, and therefore able to project all kinds of personality and fun. To a product of the late 60s like myself, however, this wasn’t enough. It was also important to create smaller, more environmentally responsible cars. If I didn’t manage to do that, wouldn’t I be just another one of those cattle grazing on the hillside?
The campuses produced a bumper crop of young graduates like me, all looking for ways to do work that was somehow "significant." As we struggled, we somehow rarely questioned the significance of lives being begun in a more fully Countercultural manner—maybe tending a few scraggly goats on some woebegone “commune;” or making and selling tie-dyed T shirts, sand-cast candles, and the like; or perhaps not doing much more than dropping out and consuming prodigious quantities of exotic chemicals.
As for the career choices we ended up making, those of us who went into the arts and academia felt reasonably assured that we could be doing something relevant.
For others, media careers beckoned, where a certain fraction of their output was able to be genuinely transformative, like Sesame Street and All in the Family.
People who weren’t artists or intellectuals or media “types,” but who were part of the new value system, tended to go to work disproportionately in the nonprofit sector, including not only foundations and charitable enterprises, but also government.
These typical career choices, while familiar to just about anyone who was of student age in the late 60s, and later noted by any number of conservative commentators, have for some reason become the subject of a great many strenuous denials by people on one side of the current culture wars.