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Lily Gillespie '12

Higher education came to me somewhat as a fluke and what a lucky fluke it was! I began my tenure in higher education as a student intern in Hamilton’s own Office of Alumni Relations at the beginning of my freshman year and continued working there until I graduated in 2012. In the process, I became fascinated by the world of higher education and alumni relations in particular. What I relished most was the opportunity to build connections with those who had shared the campus I had come to love. 

After graduating I returned home to Boston and landed in the annual fund for Harvard College, a natural continuation of the work I had come to relish as an intern. I happened to begin my time at Harvard just as they were launching the largest capital campaign in the history of higher education and saw the impact of extraordinary philanthropy. My time in that role highlighted that fundraising was not my passion, but I was keenly interested in the work of engaging alumni, which leads me to my first piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to find the right fit as you think about your second, third, or fourth job –– it’s ok to pivot!

After realizing that I wanted to focus my attention on alumni engagement, I came to the Harvard Alumni Association to work on University-wide events. I had the opportunity to help plan a wide range of events from 100-person family programs to multi-day conferences, and it was a hugely valuable experience. This prompts my second piece of advice: If you are interested in higher education, events are a terrific entry point because it will teach you a set of skills ––  attention to detail, deadline awareness, project management –– that will be useful in any profession you decide to pursue. 

Having worked for three years in University-wide events, I then pivoted to my current role planning reunions for Harvard College, a nod back to my time as a student intern in Hamilton’s own Office of Alumni Relations. Throughout my four years on the college reunions team, I worked very closely with committees of alumni volunteers, which has given me an incredible education in managing relationships, which leads me to my final piece of advice: Building and maintaining professional relationships will be a critical piece of any work in higher education, and truly in any field. Try to put yourself in positions where you have opportunities to cultivate these relationships!

The beauty of higher education is that there is a role for just about anybody at every college and university, so if you are trying to find your path, this is a great starting point. There is a wonderful energy in these environments, and I know I have enjoyed my time taking advantage of the many resources Harvard has to offer outside of the office. I am always delighted to connect with a fellow Hamilton alum, so please don’t hesitate to reach out ( if you are interested in the exciting world of higher ed!

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