College graduations are wonderful. Well, not the graduations themselves, which are usually boring and often devoid of captivating speeches. But, what college graduations represent is wonderful. The culmination of nearly two decades of schooling. The move to adulthood and the “real world”.
At least, that’s how I felt when I graduated from Syracuse University 11 years ago this month. I was adamant that my formal schooling had concluded forever – no graduate school for me – and I was ready to start living my life as a full-fledged adult. Mom invited more than 20 people to the ceremonies and, after a group lunch at an Italian steakhouse followed by the emptying of my dorm room of my final few worldly possessions, I headed back to my bedroom the apartment in the Bronx Mom and I shared. I slept well that night.
When I woke up the next morning, the day after Mother’s Day, the first thought that entered my mind was “what now?” Previously, everything had been laid out in front of me. With school there was always a paper to finish, a test to pass, a project to complete. Now there was nothing. Nothing except to find a job, figure out my career path and get started with living the rest of my life as a gainfully employed adult with bills to pay. How the heck was I supposed to get started with that? I’d gotten a degree in broadcast journalism from Syracuse, but it had been drilled into me that it may take months before I land my first broadcasting job; I knew people in my major who had a job waiting for them upon graduation, but I could count them on one hand and still have fingers left over.
Mom offered to take me to Europe for a few weeks that summer as a graduation present – even forcing me to get a passport – but I rebuffed her offer. I needed to start my life as an adult right away and any delays would be harmful. So, Mom went to Europe alone. I vowed to do some sort of job hunting every single day. The local newspapers updated their job classifieds twice a week and I pored over every listing, even though the same jobs seemed to be posted over and over again, to the point where I had several of the ads memorized. Very few of the jobs seemed like work I’d be interested in or good at. I answered one ad for a temporary staffing agency, only to have the woman there figuratively rip apart my résumé because it didn’t include details like how many words per minute I can type (how the heck am I supposed to know that? I thought. I can type; isn’t that good enough?). The previous summer, I’d hooked up with a bartending school which offered job placement assistance, so I got back in touch with them. However, all of the leads they gave me were at places where they wanted people with at least some previous experience working at a restaurant, experience I didn’t have; one restaurant manager laughed when he saw my résumé and told me I was wasting his time.
Right before Memorial Day weekend, I got an e-mail from the New York bureau of the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper. I saw their classified ad in the Sunday New York Times a day after I graduated – they were looking for a sports reporter to assist the bureau’s Japanese sportswriter – applied and forgot all about it. They wanted to interview me. An interview date was set after a couple more e-mails – I can’t remember whether I interviewed with them the day before or the day after my birthday – and, almost exactly a month after my graduation, they offered me the job, which I quickly accepted. The Yomiuri paid well – especially for someone still living at home with no major bills to pay – and had full health and retirement benefits and a substantial holiday bonus each December. I wouldn’t be in broadcasting, but I would be in journalism and I would get an opportunity to cover many different big-time sporting events, like the Super Bowl and the World Series. They didn’t need me to start working until early July, so I had a blissful month in which I knew I could relax with impunity and spend all the graduation-present money relatives and family friends had given me.
I realize how fortunate I was. Several of my friends were unemployed for months after graduation and, when many of them did finally find work, it was in a field in which they had little interest, a job that didn’t pay a living wage or both. The economy was in decent shape back then and jobs for college graduates with little or no experience weren’t easy to find, but they were out there. I made enough money so I didn’t have to work an additional part-time job if I didn’t want to, freeing me up to sit in the stands at college basketball and Major League Baseball games and make play-by-play tapes I could hopefully use to find my next job, which I wanted to be in broadcasting. I did take a part-time job teaching SAT prep courses, but that was only after I secured a baseball play-by-play position in December, a job that wasn’t going to start until late June. I wound up working at the Yomiuri for just under a year. And, I was able to make enough money to pay cash for a used car that I drove across the country to start my broadcasting career.
I’ve been able to do a lot of great things in my life, but my passport remains empty. Working, and getting your career started after college is important. But, so is taking advantage of a free trip to Europe; I won’t make that mistake again.Follow @raford3