You Don't Have To Have It All Figured Out When You Graduate
In the bittersweet weeks before graduation, it seemed like most of my friends had their post-grad plans figured out. I had waited too long. A combination of not wanting to admit it was over and fear of the unknown had paralyzed any practical thought or action (if this happens to you, don’t worry, it’s OK). I spent my first summer after college in Vermont covered in dirt doing archaeological fieldwork, and then rushing to shower that dirt off so I could get to my waitressing job (all to pay for the freedom of living outside of my parents’ home). I quickly realized I needed to figure something out.
An opportunity arose to take an internship in Bermuda that fall, and I jumped on it. I spent three glorious months there, helping the National Museum of Bermuda (NMB) with everything from accessioning to hurricane preparations to exhibition openings. While there, I started (misguidedly) applying to Ph.D. programs (in Ice-Age Scottish archaeology). I still didn’t really have things sorted out and was trying to put a grad school band-aid on a much bigger problem. Thankfully, my mentor at NMB saw my passion for museum work and encouraged me to apply to museum studies programs.
The next fall, I headed to Columbia University in New York to start my masters degree in museum anthropology. I will admit — even living in one of the cultural capitals of the world — it took me a long time to get my footing. I continued to waitress on and off to make rent (something I’d sworn not to do ever again when I left Vermont), and jumped from various internships and temp jobs at museums, trying to find the right fit. I ended up at a philanthropy management company in Manhattan, administering for American Friends groups of cultural institutions abroad and a few small family foundations. It was interesting work, but I felt I was constantly looking for something else, to the point where I considered applying to Ph.D. programs once again.
In case you haven’t followed the exact timeline, I was still searching and unsure of my career path and goals six years after I’d graduated Hamilton. If I thought it was frustrating that most of my friends had their lives figured out at graduation, I had no idea how it would feel to see them happy in their graduate programs or jobs while I was still looking for my passion (don’t worry, this story does have a happy ending).
I now realize that all of that time spent wasn’t wasted, and that each internship, each “misstep” taught me different things about myself and my career goals. If I hadn’t taken the path I took, I wouldn’t be where I am today. In the past few months, I’ve moved out of New York, gotten married to a Bermudian (who I met just about six years ago while interning at NMB), and started work as an advancement officer at the National Museum of Bermuda.
While writing this post, and thinking through all of my various jobs, apartments, and insecurities, I can’t help but compare my post-grad years to my years at Hamilton. In both phases of life, I was fortunate to be able to test out various things, bounce around a bit, and finally find the place I belonged. At Hamilton, it was as an archaeology major and a French minor, surrounded by lifelong friends (who, as you’ll have noticed, are more organized than me). Now, it’s working at my dream job, on a beautiful tropical island, with a supportive and loving life partner.
I’ll leave you with the moral of the story: it is OK (in fact, it’s more than OK), if you don’t have it all figured out when you graduate Hamilton, and even if it takes you six or more years to find your passion, that’s OK too. Just remember that each step will teach you something new, and I promise you will end up doing something you love. You have the foundation of a Hamilton education which will send you places you couldn’t imagine.