Alumnae/i returned last week to share advice and to tell their stories of struggle and success in life after Vassar. All three panels, each one with a different focus, shared this general advice to students: be persistent, do what you love and get your foot in the door.
The panels took place on Friday, Feb. 15 and Saturday, Feb. 16 and were hosted by various college offices, departments and organizations. On Friday, the Office of International Services hosted its sixth annual International Alumnae/a Panel, which featured Americans working abroad or internationals working stateside in a variety of fields. Two panelists appeared in person, while four others Skyped in from overseas–one from as far away as Tajikistan.
Later that same evening in the Rosenwald Theater, a panel of ten recent graduates who were involved in film, television and online media introduced themselves and discussed their career trajectories.
Then on Saturday, the Council of Black Seniors (CBS), in congruence with the Career Development Office (CDO) and Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development (OAAD), hosted an event. The panel consisted of five Vassar alums who answered questions that were posed by the CBS.
President of CBS Christie Chea ’13 spoke about choosing the final panelists: “Our main Intaim was to have a mix of class years, professions, and post-graduation experiences.”
This was the CBS’ first alumnae/i panel. One of the missions of the organization is preprofessional services and programming for seniors. Other events in the past include a shadowing program involving alumnae/i called “Take a Senior to Work Day.” They decided to do something different this year.
The alumnae/i reflected on the positive aspects of a liberal arts education. Students have expressed anxiety about this type of education when faced with a job search. “The beauty of Vassar is that you can dabble in different areas,” said Keity Gomez ’10.
Damon Johnson ’02 echoed Gomez’s thoughts. “You’ll never have a better opportunity to practice being the master of your own path than at Vassar.” Furthermore, the alumnae/i believe that participation in extracurricular activities was what helped them gain confidence. “The first two years were rough for me, coming from a first generation family,” said Joel Arce ’08, “but finally being able to be confident, to advocate for others, that took me being a part of programs at Vassar, such as Poder Latino and the Council for Black Seniors.”
They also spoke about their heavy involvement in extra-curricular activities and clubs that helped them gain experience and an understanding of their passions. “It all started with ViCE and wanting to get into music…I considered that to be the beginning of my career,” said CBS panelist Monte Bailey ’90, a former chairperson on ViCE, who worked as a Director of Marketing and Promotion at Time Warner and at Universal Music Group.
Panelists of the CBS event warned students to be realistic. Their successes would be dependent on factors largely beyond their control.
“These were the best years of your life,” said Chief Information Officer at Dickinson College and international panelist Robert Renaud ’76, paraphrasing Meryl Streep’s 1983 commencement address. “The rest of your years are like high school. It is a lot about how good looking you are, who you know, and a lot of luck.”
Some alumnae/i were even confronted with discrimination after college. Caitlin Feeley ’02 entered a career in video game design, a predominantly male business. Feeley is now a project manager at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Education Arcade. but she told the audience at the media panel that it was a hard climb to success. “The ladder rungs were greased,” she said.
For others, like international panelist Joan Shore ‘56, discovering a career was a journey. Shore explained that in her time, before Vassar went co-ed in 1969, ambitions after graduation were very different for women.
“I grew up in a generation,” said Shore, “where the ultimate goal was to get married and have a family.” While she was originally interested in architecture, her plans changed after she got married, had children and moved to Brussels.
In Europe, she ran through a gamut of jobs as an art critique, a journalist and a freelance writer. She now resides in Paris and is a contributor for the Huffington Post and an author of two books.
Media panelist Sam Wootton ‘10 moved to New York City. When he was offered work, it was an accounting position at Home Box Office (HBO) miniseries Mildred Pierce. He had studied film at Vassar, but he took the job anyway.
Then one day, a production manager approached him and asked if he would be interested in working as a director of photography on a new television series HBO was developing. No official name was attached to the show yet, so they were calling it the Untitled Lena Dunham Project. Today he holds production assistant credits for five episodes of Girls.