Dreaming Of New York, Hawaii Grad Heads East Fresh out of college, Ryan Kam is leaving his home in Waikiki to move to New York City to find work because Hawaii lacks the diversity of jobs that exists on the mainland. Tourism, the dominant island industry, offers few opportunities for upward mobility.
NPR logo

Dreaming Of New York, Hawaii Grad Heads East

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127601863/127732941" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Dreaming Of New York, Hawaii Grad Heads East


As part of our series on new graduates, Setting Out, Ben Markus of Hawaii Public Radio reports on a Hawaiian who's hoping for better prospects on the mainland.

BEN MARKUS: At the University of Hawaii commencement ceremony, graduates were separated and lined up by college. Ryan Kam remembers making an observation to his fellow liberal arts grads.

RYAN KAM: So yeah, when we were in line, we saw - you notice the different colleges and then you see all like the people that are in a really short line for the College of Engineering. Those are the people with jobs and people in our line - people without jobs.


MARKUS: He was simply stating what everyone around him was probably thinking. Twenty-two-year-old Ryan says his work experience likely won't help much either.

MARKUS: Well, I mean I have like a background in retail, which is an equally useless skill. Because it obviously doesn't take much to ring up a cash register, you know?

MARKUS: Also, there isn't the kind of diversity of jobs here you'd see on the mainland. Tourism dominates and it offers few opportunities or upward mobility, especially for history majors. So the life-long Hawaii resident has set his sights on a city a world away - New York. Over his shoulder, a subway map is pinned to the wall of his Waikiki apartment, a souvenir from a semester he spent at Queens College.

KAM: Oh, I think you start to really, to really fall in love with the city just, you know, the more time you spend there.

MARKUS: For Ryan, the allure of New York City's culture and history exceeds any job opportunities the city may offer. Oh, and his girlfriend lives there. Surprisingly, none of this worries his parents.


MARKUS: Ryan's dad, Frank, who's a musician, says he's not concerned about his son's future - exactly the opposite.

FRANK KAM: Yeah, I'm kind of excited because I want to see what happens. Because like I said, he's the kind of guy that can make things happen.

MARKUS: In between bites, his mom, Diane, who's a massage therapist, adds that Ryan has always been a meticulous planner. She calls his move to New York a fantasy, and she means that in a good way.

DIANE KAM: Planning ahead, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that, I'm going to go, go, and you're like, yes, go for it. Go son, go, you know, do all the things that, of course, we dreamed of when we were kids but never carried out. I always had that aspiration.

MARKUS: Diane labels her family solidly middle class. Ryan's grandmother helped him pay for college, leaving him with no student debt. Not too long ago, Ryan told his mother something that hit her hard.

KAM: He said he wants to be in a better position when he's our age than we are, so that's like every parent wants their child to do better than they did. Every generation has gotten better and so now we are at that point where this generation, they don't know if they are actually going to be able to do better than the parents did because of our economy.

MARKUS: In fact, economists say this is possibly the worst job market for college graduates since World War II. That doesn't deter Ryan. He still plans to leave for New York in August. He'll try to work for a year, put money away, and apply for law school.

KAM: As far as I'm concerned, evading the real world for a little bit is not a bad idea, especially with the current economic climate. Law school is a great way to kill time.

MARKUS: For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Honolulu.

INSKEEP: Tomorrow, as our series continues, we'll meet one of the lucky ones, though his success did require a change of plans.

INSKEEP: I wanted to work for Lehman Brothers, but then, you know, that kind of didn't happen.

INSKEEP: So we'll find out what he did, tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.