Seventeen hours after graduating from William & Mary, I started my first job.
As the 3-day long Commencement extravaganza came to a close, I proudly flaunted my diploma in front of the Wren building for a few last pictures and packed my belonging into my car before leaving behind everything that I had known and loved for the past four years to head off into my new life.
Seventeen hours after being handed my diploma, I nervously sipped on some coffee at a Starbucks in Washington D.C. and pondered how the first day of my new life would play out. Was I really prepared to start a job in the real world? Did Reveley’s Commencement address somehow magically transform me into an adult? William & Mary had handed me the keys to the car and gave me no map or further instructions – something that terrified the Type A, over-planner in me to the core. Anxiously flipping through the fat folder of insurance and benefits information that I had received from HR earlier in the week, I looked up and saw something out the window that caught me off guard.
Had I looked up a second later, I would have missed it as it was gone within seconds. But what I saw was a runner passing by wearing a William & Mary t-shirt. I realized that the Tribe did not exclusively exist in Williamsburg, but was made up of adventurous, bright minds that have journeyed to all corners of the world. I hadn’t left behind one life to start another; I was simply embarking on the next step of my journey that began at William & Mary.
“You know, William & Mary is a great school; my brother went there. Go Tribe!” said one of my interviewers when I made the trip up to D.C. for my first interview.
“So I heard that you went to William & Mary? I graduated from there in ‘06!” said the woman who sits at the desk next to me on my first day of work.
Had it not been for the connections that I made at W&M, I may have never found this job in the first place. In truth, about 75% of the jobs I applied for were recommended to me by direct or indirect contacts I made through W&M. Had I not reached out to the TA from Intro to Marine Science my freshman year, I would have never begun working in a lab at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Had I never reached out to the head of that lab when he began a new research program at the Smithsonian, I would have never worked for him at the National Museum of Natural History. And had I never taken that internship, I would have never met the woman who passed along the posting for this job, knowing that it might be of some interest to me.
I may not have a map that gives me step-by-step directions, but I have built myself a network of connections that can lead me down any road that I choose to take from this point on. The compass rose that sits prominently on my map and helps me find my way when I’m feeling lost is, and will always be, William & Mary.
With this hindsight, I have one thing that I can reassure you of: you are ready. Whether you are a recent graduate looking for a job, a current student dreading taking upper level classes, or an incoming freshman anxiously anticipating leaving home and transitioning into college life, just know that you are ready. You are the cartographer of your own map. Build your own roads by being bold enough to reach out and make new connections. There is no better place to begin than your dear alma mater.