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Next Stop: Graduate School

CheersBarA college friend recently shared a concept with me: Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. It’s actually the name of an old Broadway musical. But I think it’s a clever proclamation for my life lately.

It’s not that it’s bad. As a young woman about to embark on the adventure that is graduate school, I know I’m lucky.

Yet it’s hard to watch the small signposts pointing me forward when sometimes I just want to curl beneath my blankets and hide. It’s hard to watch my high school friend’s family Chinese restaurant – the one where I’ve shared jokes, gossip and Sesame Chicken for more than a decade – change ownership overnight.

One day my friend is behind the counter ready to take my order. The next a woman who barely speaks English is smiling at me entreatingly. And although the newspapers dotting the shelves are familiar, and the Crab Rangoon tastes nearly the same – there’s a distinct flavor of goat cheese that wasn’t there before – I feel a little more empty inside.

Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I could go to the Windy City and encounter the break-neck pace of journalism studies at Northwestern’s Medill, or I could give one of the cradles of American history – Boston – a chance and try my hand at long-form writing. Would life in upstate New York be dull or peaceful? Where can you study creative nonfiction, magazine layout, website coding and press ethics all at once? Do I need to return to a large college town with southern charm to feel back at home? It’s a little overwhelming to have my inbox crammed with new educational suitors every few hours. I feel like I’ve got a lot of offers to go the prom but can’t decide who I want to date.

For many Millennials these days, graduate school is a way to advance their educations and marketability. It can also be a place to duck out from real-world responsibility. I have many friends who’ve never worked a day in their chosen careers – unless you count practicums.

But where else do you go but forward when the past life you once had has all but disappeared?

It’s sad to think about how many friends from middle and high school have vanished into the crush of life, never to be seen or heard from again. They move to new cities and forge new worlds for themselves. Some have the nerve to get in touch when they need something, of course. Others delete their Facebook accounts or drop you as a friend without so much as an argument to justify it. I guess they’re just cleaning house and deleting the people they don’t talk with as frequently anymore. I can’t say I feel that close to them either – unless we were in the same room or something. Then I’m certain feelings of connection and shared experience would come rushing back. If not, that’s what alcohol’s for, right?

Visiting friends around the country since college graduation has taught me one thing: the happiest ones were those whose school programs build for them a sense of community. It’ll probably be obliterated as soon as they earn their diplomas, but still, it offers someone to study with, have brunch with, and go out with on the weekends.

A sense of place and community seems fragmented in today’s world where people move on to the next best job opportunity swiftly, even if it sends them halfway around the world. One day you’ve got a buddy in the next cubicle to swap OMG emails with. The next your side of the office has been all but cleared out, leaving you amid dusty monitors, an assortment of pens that don’t write well, and the almost audible sound of “The Way We Were” playing softly in the background.

Sometimes, I want to return to the carefree days of summers spent in New York City where the concrete sucked up all the heat. I remember fun afternoons splashing around in a tiny pool with my cousin, snacking on hot dogs before driving upstate to see relatives.

It’s important to enjoy every moment. Every moment ends. The ridiculous time where the guy a few seats down from you at the concert was swaying wordlessly with his eyes closed, and you and your buddy cackled like hyenas? That’s a moment. Because one day she’ll be living 1,000 miles away from you. That imprint in time where you feasted on chocolates sitting on white mattresses in the bedding department of Macy’s catching up with former besties is a moment, too.

It’s comforting to be in a place where everybody knows your name sometimes.

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Climbing the Corporate Ladder

I’ve completed the GRE. (Pause for wild cheers of jubilation). And while I’m very relieved it’s over and while I’ll eventually be leaving my first, full-time, “big-girl job” behind, I’m still at a bit of a loss.


Will there be a good journalism graduate school program out there that wants to accept me as a student? Will it be harder than I think to leave what’s become a comfortable position that’s actually given me a lot of purpose (although I do have to pay for my own gasoline, and I use my own camera)?  


I’ve learned more from simply being a reporter for the last year and a half than I probably ever would have learned in a couple of semesters in the classroom. But I still long for an intellectual experience.  


I’ve been doing some research on millennials in the workplace, and authors of the articles I’ve read have a lot of our traits down. We don’t see why we can’t chat directly with the CEO if we have something relevant to say. We want technical training that’s going to serve us well for years to come, flexible schedules (if possible), and opportunities for advancement.  


I understand completely why employees have to prove themselves over and over and “move up the ladder” slowly. But honestly, I sometimes feel like there’s a vast lack of common sense and social graces in the wider world.  


For example, one thing that’s amused me to no end in the workplace is watching people email rather than chat face-to-face when the situation involves an uncomfortable topic. Email – even when your correspondent is right next to you – seems to give this magical element of power to the sender. Like they really think emailing you something is going to make you more inclined to follow-through with their orders. Are they afraid of the recipient disagreeing with their viewpoint or providing an alternative opinion? Is that why there’s a dearth of actual communication in cubicle land?  


ladder

ladder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Personally, I’d love to know more about all facets of the media business–from advertising to layout design. Yet at an entry-level job, it’s easy to get pigeon-holed into a silo of your responsibilities. Small companies don’t necessarily offer mentoring opportunities to you unless you demand that you want that kind of experience.


It’s been a steep learning curve, but I stuck it out. And when listening to my editor give instructions to our college interns, I can honestly reflect on how far I’ve come. I know how to craft news briefs and sort through government records. I can hold my own with one of the most powerful millionaires in the country–and isn’t it cool that I can say I’ve met him? I can call, and call, and call one more time until I finally get that energy company to give me a statement. I can juggle–writing three to four stories at once about anything from customs of the Medieval period to space travel. I’ve learned to take a better photograph and to more effectively respond to criticism. I’ve learned more about the world and about people.  


I’m hoping school will provide more technical training and a greater focus on my love of all things social science-related. I know I’m ready and capable. I know I’ll be fine. I hope and pray some school accepts me even though I don’t know exactly what I want. I’m still young, after all. And there will be time before school starts again to polish up a few “life skills” and grapple with new responsibilities. 


But every now and then, I miss those college parties when nothing seemed to matter, and everyone around you was grinning and felt invincible. Sometimes, when I scroll through Facebook photos, I think that maybe people’s young marriages are just a way of coping with The Real World with a partner perpetually plastered to their side to make the journey a bit less bumpy. I was barely done pulling my finally valid 21-year-old ID out of my pocket before my peers began walking down the aisle. But I’m not quite ready to part ways with Avicii, Lady Gaga and late night trips out for ice cream yet. I still deeply enjoy getting to hang out with girlfriends and just relaxing and being carefree. And if that means I’m a little immature, well, it beats being old.  


Who knows? Maybe that initial English degree I earned will prove very useful one day. After I get married and have children and decide I can’t run around and keep humanity informed about the issues of the day anymore, perhaps I’ll be sitting contentedly in the classroom of a private school (since I have no masters degree in education), listening to kids read passages from “The Giver” and tell me what they think this crazy world is all about.

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