I could tell this one was going to be tough the moment the graduating student walked in the door. He had that same look, like all his troubles were over.
"Mr. Pitts. I'm Stan Thomas, your graduation advisor. Please have a seat."
He obeyed; they all did. Seniors were a lot less cocky now that the protection of school was disappearing.
I pulled up my laptop and accessed Mr. Pitt's case. "Chemist," I said.
"That's right." His smile was contagious.
"Good for you. You like chemistry?"
"Always have," he said and I knew he meant it. "Tomorrow after graduation my fiancee and I are headed to Houston. I've never lived in Texas before, but I know it will be a lot different than Boston."
I knew all this, of course. It was all in the file. I knew he grew up in Maine and the girl he was going to marry hailed from the South. I also knew the soon-to-be Mrs. Pitts's parents recently relocated from Memphis to Houston. I guess it was my turn to deliver the bad news.
"Mr. Pitts, I'm afraid that move to Houston will need to be postponed."
"Excuse me?" That look of confusion will soon turn to anger.
"Yes, it seems your services are needed in Fargo."
I saw the anger build in those blue eyes.
I stifled a chuckle. "Yes, North Dakota."
"I don't understand."
Now, the hammer. "Our recruiting office was notified by Mason Petroleum that they are in need of chemists."
"So? What does that have to do with me?"
"Well, you have just graduated with a chemistry degree from Boston College. Mason Petroleum requires your services and so, you are now required to take that job."
"Required?" He was pissed and made no attempt to hid it from me. In fact, I thought he might reach over the desk and smash in my face--something that's been attempted before.
"Yes, Mr. Pitts," I said in my most accommodating tone. "You are required to work for any company the government deems eligible of your services."
"And why is that?"
"Because the government, and by extension, the taxpayers paid for your education. Since all higher education is free, the people require you to work where your education is needed, not necessarily where you want to work."
"What if I say no? What if I tell you and the people to shove it and I go to Texas? What then?" Fear replaced anger in his eyes.
"All you have to do is pay back the $350,000, roughly, that your education cost the taxpayers of this country and you'll be free to go to Houston, or Sacramento, or wherever you want."
Mr. Pitts looked at me, then the floor, then around the room. Now came the moment that always surprised me. How would they accept their fate? Things definitely changed since I went to school, when I worked two jobs and took out no student loans and earned my degree without conditions. Ever since a college degree was made free to everyone and anyone who wanted to go, a lot of people had to pay a different price for their free education.
He gave me one last look, then stormed out of the room. The door slam must have been heard by every graduation advisor in the building.
"That was new," I said to the empty room.