A counselor from the Purdue Honor's College reached out to me asking if I would write a letter to the class of 2020, sharing my experience of post-graduation life. At first, I thought I wouldn't have any useful advice for them, since their experience is so different. But as I started writing about my journey after college, I realized that maybe we do have some things in common, in that, my journey has not been what I thought it would be-- much like their senior year. But it has equipped me to be a better, more interesting person and for that I am grateful. If you are class of 2020, or just struggling with a change in life from the pandemic or otherwise, I hope this will give you something to resonate with. Here is what I sent (complete with pictures to give you a break from my long-windedness).
I graduated from Purdue not too long ago in 2016, though now it feels like a lifetime has passed. Time becomes a very weird thing post-college, as it is no longer marked by semesters and summers. Which is a transition I had to get used to. I am used to having end points on the horizon, but in the working world, it just keeps going indefinitely. I found that having big goals with dates I planned to achieve them (i.e. running a marathon, finishing a big project at work, etc) helped to keep time in better perspective.
Right out the door from Purdue, I went to graduate school. I went to the University of London in Surrey, England which was both an exciting next step, but also terrifying. I had studied abroad during undergrad, so I had some expectations, but for the most part, I had no idea what life would be like. The first night I arrived was like I had stepped into the Twilight Zone (with no help from the jet lag). I was on my own in a foreign country, no friends, two giant suit cases to lug to my new "flat", and though everything was in English, it was all just slightly different. I could go on about this experience, but the main point is that if you are doing something after college that terrifies you, more power to you. You will become strong through the discomfort, and in the end-- be a generally more well-rounded and interesting person because of it. My discomfort was traded with sheer joy by the new friends I made, the beautiful place I lived, and the excitement of exploring and developing as an adult. If you have the opportunity to go off on your own to a new place for even a short time after college, I recommend it. It feels like jumping into the deep end, but you learn how to swim a lot better that way.
After my year in grad school (grad school only lasts one year in the UK), I returned back to Texas where my parents and boyfriend were both living. (This is another area where my experience may be different then what you might expect from your life, but it just goes to show what different paths may be awaiting you.) I did not have a job lined up right away, but I was in the running for a very prestigious internship with the US Air Force to be a civilian Public Affairs Specialist. At the same time, my significant other was training to fly jets for the Air Force. I thought our paths might overlap if I got the internship, but it did not turn out that way. When I was accepted into the program, they gave me 48 hours to decide whether or not to take it. The decision was hard. If I took the internship, I would be living in Virginia and then moving every 18 months wherever they needed me for, at minimum, 3 years. My boyfriend and I had just spent a year apart, in two different countries, and we were talking about marriage. Moreover, I have had it engrained in me to always rely on career over "silly boys" (my Dad's words :) ) But from my time in England, I knew how unfulfilling even the greatest experiences can be, when you are apart from a loved one. So I turned down the internship. A few months later my (now) husband and I got married.
Like I said, my husband is in the Air Force, and having grown up in a military family, I had a few expectations-- but did not fully understand the toll military life would take on my career. One month after getting married, we moved to North Carolina, and ten months later moved again to Idaho. It was impossible to find work in the midst of all the moving and transition. So I decided to work on a life goal I have had for a long time; to make a documentary. I would like to say that I turned a hard time into one of the best times of my life... but I will not sugar coat it. It was hard. As we are all in quarantine now, it is easier to understand what it feels like; to work from home, and have Skype as your companion, as all my friends lived far away and my husband was working long hours. But it was only 10 months! At the time it felt like forever, but looking back, it is not that long.... and again, I came out a much more interesting person. I had made progress on my documentary, and even made headway on my own video production company.
When we moved to Idaho, I was psyched. This change marked the first time since Purdue that I would stay in one place for longer than one year. That meant it would be easier to find a job, and get myself off the ground. I got a snazzy job as a marketing director for a company in town. It was great at first, but I slowly started realizing that this job was not what I wanted to be doing. When you hit this point in your first real job, it is going to be ever so tempting to quit. But I knew I needed the experience, and I had a good reputation with the company so I decided to stick it out. Then when I found out they were operating the business illegitimately (it is against best practice to classify your workers as independent contractors but treat them as employees), I got out. And then a pandemic hit.
But this time has given me the opportunity, to finally do what I feel is my calling. I have brought back my company, UpRooted Productions. My time at the other company gave me a lot more insight into how I wanted to run my business, and for that I am thankful. I really enjoy helping start-ups through UpRooted and creating a community for military families through my Silent Soldiers project; the two missions I get to focus on. In addition, I've decided to join the Air Force Reserves to fulfill my career aspiration to be a Public Affairs Officer. I sure as heck, never saw that one coming!
To sum it up; life after Purdue is not AT ALL what I expected. If you had asked me as a Freshman, I would have said (very confidently, "After college I am going to move to Indy, become a news anchor and work my way up to being CEO of a big news corp one day."
At the end of senior year I would have said, "Five years from now, I will be working as a host for a Travel Channel show in Nashville."
If you had told me, "Well actually, after college you will move to England for graduate school, move back to Texas, marry a fighter pilot, move a whole bunch all over the country, start your own company, be a marketing director, and then relaunch your business while applying to be in the Air Force Reserves..." Well... I'd be speechless. Because even though this path has been so much harder than I ever expected, it has been perfect.
I know right now times are weird and uncertain-- and not at all how you envisioned your senior year. But when asked about their senior years, most people have the same anecdotes; Cactus Thursdays, alumni events at the armory, Grand Prix week, cheering on our Boilers in Mackey, etc. But now you have become a much more interesting person, with a unique story of your senior year and the unorthodox way you exited the best University in the world. Plus, I guarantee for years after, you will go back to Purdue for football games, maybe a Cactus night here or there, and you will enjoy it ten times more because finals are not looming on that hazy horizon.