The 2.3 million members of the class of 2009 are facing their toughest assignment: get a job. Only one in five had one at graduation. Compare that to the class of 2007, where half of them had jobs.
In partnership with USA Today, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric spoke with some recent graduates in our continuing series, CBS Reports: Children of the Recession.
They spent four long years learning the facts. Now, they have to face them. Graduation Day came with a dose of harsh reality for the Class of 2009.
At commencement addresses this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was "A time of great challenges." Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said this is "an economy in crisis."
Pooja Jaitly is a recent graduate of Fordham University.
"I feel like my friends and I are all in a place where everything is unknown. Especially those of us that don't have jobs yet, or aren't going to school. It's scary," she said.
For Jaitly, looking for work is a full time job. She told Couric, "I feel like, am I under-qualified? Am I over-qualified? I don't know what I'm doing wrong."
Alan Carlotto hopes to go dental school next year. He wanted a job in a lab, but after 15 rejections, he settled for office work.
With $15,000 in student loans, he can't afford rent in Boston. A family of a child he once tutored has taken him in.
Said Carlotto: "Times are tough right now, and money is unfortunately the biggest concern."
Jessica Piperis is living with her parents and is more than $20,000 in debt. She took a job at Best Buy to pay the bills, until she can find a job in marketing.
Piperis told Couric, "I've talked to professors and they all say the same thing. You know, you just have to persevere. Keep going, keep applying. You're much more marketable working."
Some are applying for service programs. Teach for America received 35,000 applications, and hired just 4,100 teachers.
"That's not the type of profession that somebody just happens to need. Architecture is more of a luxury," Jordan said. He added, "There are lots of really qualified people and not very many spots."
Jordan's back at home in Maryland for now, but starts teaching in San Jose at the end of June. He hopes the experience will help him get into law school down the road.
These members of the Class of 2009 are starting out with doubt, debt, and anxiety. Believe it or not some people say that might be good for them.
Historian and author Neil Howe says young adults who encounter economic adversity, like the so-called Greatest Generation during the Depression, often end up stronger for it.
Howe said, "This could be the event which challenges them, forces them to rely upon their strength and cultivate their strong points."
This generation has been called the "me generation." With MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook, they're the stars of their own universe.
But this recession's a rude awakening for some.
Carlotto said, "I think reality is kind of knocking us down a block."
Jordan agreed, "Mommy and Daddy always say how special we are. And now it's kind of like, wait, so the rest of society doesn't think we're amazing, too?"
Couric asked, "How do you think this recession will ultimately impact your generation, in terms of how it sees itself and the world?"
Eric Jordan replied, "I personally think, and kind of hope, that this makes us all stop taking things for granted as much as we do. A lot of people in our generation kind of feel like you need to have the newest and latest thing. And if you don't have an iPod right now, then like, the world is going to crumble. "
Couric asked, "Conspicuous consumption seems a lot less appealing today, doesn't it for some reason?"
Jaitly laughed and said, "Yeah, you realize that every dollar counts."
For the Class of 2009, commencement day was truly the beginning of a real world education.