EAST LANSING — When Michael Wilson graduated from Michigan State University less than two weeks ago, he didn’t think he’d use his robe again.
But on Monday, he donned the green cap and gown with a sign reading, “Homeless jobless anything helps!!” as he panhandled at a corner in East Lansing.
Wilson, 28, graduated earlier this month from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences with a degree in digital storytelling. He said he's put in over 90 job applications and conducted interviews for three, but has yet to receive an offer.
“I'm not just sitting around doing nothing,” Wilson said. “I went to college, I paid the money, I did everything society has told me to do and still here I am.”
He set up at the intersection of Michigan and Grand River avenues, the day after his apartment’s lease ran out. His first priorities are obtaining housing and about $70 to reactivate his phone so he can resume his job search, he said.
“Even if someone was to call me about a job interview, I wouldn't be able to get it,” Wilson said.
Wilson has applied for some lower paying jobs in the area, including a doorman position at an East Lansing bar. But despite that business having a hiring sign up for several months, he said he never received a response. And due to his student loan payments, Wilson won't be able to work a low-paying job in the long term.
“The clock is ticking,” he said. He has six months to figure out a significant income source before his post-graduation payment pause lapses.
Wilson is looking for a role in the media industry and has applied to several local news stations.
During his time at MSU, he was involved with Big Ten Network and Focal Point, a journalism program that creates television-like video stories. He also helped start the MSU Survivor Club, an adaptation of the classic "Survivor" show on CBS.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the median pay in the news industry in 2021 was $48,370 per year, or $23.26 per hour. The Bureau also predicts a 9% decline in the number of journalism jobs by 2031.
Wilson said he doesn’t have any family members in the area he could stay with — his father was killed overseas in the military in 2017 and his mother lives in Alma. Wilson previously lived with her when classes went online due to the pandemic, but said that she now doesn’t want him living with her.
Before his father’s death, Wilson thought he would be destined for a life of unspecialized jobs, but his father’s military service made him eligible for a scholarship that helped put him through college. Still, he feels that MSU didn’t provide him with enough support as a student.
“As soon as I had that money — that blood money — they welcome me with open arms, slap 100% on all of my assignments, give me a cap and gown and send me on my way because they just want that money,” he said. “They don't want to help me, they just want the money.”
Dan Olsen, deputy spokesperson for MSU, praised the university's ability to prepare many students for post-college careers.
"The value of a Michigan State education can be life changing," he said. "MSU Career Services Network connects students and recent alums with career service professionals to provide valuable career resources and relevant connections to strengthen their career outcomes."
Olsen said that university data shows that 93% of graduates are employed full time or continuing their education and that more than 200,000 job internship postings went out last year seeking MSU students and graduates.
"We encourage all students and recent alums to reach out to our Career Services Network to support their career search efforts in a way that helps capture the full scope of their experience — from volunteer experiences to classroom activities and co-curricular activities — so they (may) be successful in their search."
Beyond raising money for his phone bill and housing, Wilson said that he hopes to spread a message to people driving by about the worth of higher education.
“Maybe someone else won't put as much value on a degree and hold themselves back because they don't have a degree,” he said. “Maybe someone else might hire someone without a degree because they'll see me on the street with a sign and say ‘Hey, maybe that guy without a degree could do it.’”
“We place a huge value on these pieces of paper, and in the end they don't really get you anything,” Wilson continued. “The students are the ones who did the work — without the school, they would have been able to do the same thing.”
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State grad turns to panhandling while job searching