I hope you enjoy this guest post from a very good friend, Andy Herren. Andy is the type of person who walked around a campus of 40,000 students and knew 9 out of 10 people he passed on the street. Not only was he a contributor to the University of Illinois newspaper, he is the person who can drum up 30+ responses to a Facebook status — I wanted to give him a new outlet to share his writing. Here goes…
“So, you’ve got your master’s degree! What’s next?” Oh, those dreaded words. Don’t worry if you’ve spouted them to me (as a good 95 percent of those in my life have); it is nice to know that people care about my future even if I have no idea what it holds. I’ll admit what nearly everyone who has just left college behind is thinking: the real world kinda sucks. Looking for jobs is stressful, not being able to get drunk four nights a week is a major buzz kill (albeit a responsible buzz kill), and moving back in with mom and dad isn’t what anyone envisions for themselves as a college graduate. However, I feel as though life as a new grad is very exciting. The world is yours for the taking, and as long as you’ve got the ambition nothing is impossible. Also, having a solid base of friends is essential to life as a post grad (and life in general, actually). I’d now like to take some time to do one of my favorite activities: talk about myself. Let’s start at the beginning…
I’m going to take you back to August of 2005, when a petrified only child who had never done laundry before was dumped at the substance free dorm of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by a devastated, crying mother and an impatient, frustrated father (he had been dealing with my weepy mom all afternoon). If you haven’t guessed already, the student in question is yours truly, and to be quite honest, I almost transferred from U of I after a few months. Living in the substance free dorm (Snyder Hall, for anyone wondering) yielded meeting VERY FEW social people, and I was used to being able to meet and greet with panache. Unless you’re an engineer who wants straight A pluses (and if you are, I mean no disrespect), nearly anyone who attends college will admit that finding a solid base of friends is essential to being happy and successful in such a foreign environment, and this element was glaringly missing from my college experience. Well, by October of 2005 everything changed when I met the dude who eventually became my best friend of college. All of a sudden I had a partner in crime, and we established a social network that expanded across all of campus. We would go on “Dorm Tours” every night, leaving after dinner and typically arriving back home around 2:30am. On these tours, we would end up traveling all over the University to visit floors of our friends. Freshman year went from one of the loneliest times of my life to one of the most exciting, and all it took was establishing some solid connections.
The action of making connections occurred similarly my sophomore year as well. On Open Doors Night in Allen Hall I struck up a conversation with the guy who turned out to be my other best friend of college, thus proving that connections can be made in even the hokiest of settings. I also would take advantage of meeting people in classes, usually sitting back for a few weeks, gauging who was worth establishing contact with, and making my move towards friendship. Doing this also resulted in lasting relationships that I maintain this very day.
Undergrad passed by in a blur of Corona and research papers, and soon it was time to decide what was next. The first semester of my senior year I was taking two classes in the Communication department, and I fell in love. I talked to the professors of these classes, who urged me to apply for my master’s in Communication at U of I. I applied, got in, and instantly had the next two years of my life figured out. I still remember all of my friends freaking out about employment while I was just getting drunk because I had solidified a solid two-year base for myself after graduation.
I started graduate school in the fall of 2009, and all of a sudden it felt like 2005 again. My core of friends had all graduated, and I was back…without any of them. Even though I was in the same physical location I still felt a sense of loneliness at losing so many people I really cared about. Thus, I made it my goal to be proactive and get to know the people in my program. Soon, myself and the eight other people in the Communication master’s program were great friends, and I can say with confidence that I plan to keep in touch with all of them. The other interaction that I truly valued about my time in graduate school was the time I spent with my students. You see, in the Communication program graduate students are made TAs for classes, and I taught courses in public speaking and paper writing. My students’ success motivated me to yearn towards being the best teacher I could possibly be, and watching all of them progress throughout our time together is still one of the best memories I will have of all of my time at U of I. The two years I spent getting my master’s passed as quickly as undergrad, and now I find myself writing this guest blog entry for (the lovely) Stephanie Florence. So, you’re all probably wondering (that is if you’ve reached this point…sorry, I’m long-winded): what’s next?
My future plans, as of right now, include taking improvisation classes at Second City in Chicago, applying to USC film school, applying to teach community college near my house, applying for communications jobs in Chicago, and playing with my dog a lot. I’ve also been frequenting the gym due to immense amounts of free time. Yes, I am currently unemployed, but the extreme optimist in me says to hold out a bit and keep taking risks. Sure, film school will cost me six figures of debt if I get in, but it would put me on a path towards a life that I have dreamed about since I was young. Yeah, taking improv classes isn’t the most professional thing to do after getting your master’s degree, but I’ve always wanted to try my hand at comedy, so why not now? Life is short, and for the moment being I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and stuck doing something I dislike. The more practical part of me, however, is screaming, “GET A JOB, YOU BUM! Do you want to be homeless one day?!” The fact that I have very little money definitely is a huge incentive to try and join the work force.
So, the moral of the story: I can’t stress enough how important it is to make connections in whatever situation your find yourself. Be it during your freshman year of college or your first year in the work force, I say “Go! Get out there and meet people!” Having people to talk to and confide in is a true (and free!) pleasure in life. I actually heard about Second City and USC through friends who know me and thought I would love what each institution has to offer, and if you’re looking for a job it never hurts to have a foundation of people who have your back and will go to bat for you. Also, if you’re recently graduated, friends are the perfect people to complain about unemployment with. Take it from someone with first-hand experience.
Update: Congrats to Andy on landing a Speech teaching gig at a local community college!