After the Bubble bursts

Katy Stanton ’07

“So, what are you doing next year?”I don’t think I’ve ever been asked a single question so many times. Of course, if you’re like I was, you’ve got a stock answer prepared for whoever asks. For your grandparents: “Well, I’m still seeing what’s out there”; for family friends at Christmastime: “I’m not quite sure yet — either graduate school or a job”; and for friends: “F*** off.” It is hands-down the most irritating question that someone could ask you right now — even if you do have it figured out.
I was fortunate enough to have a job lined up right after graduation. Two weeks into the summer, I was in Milwaukee working at a brand-new, (very) small political consulting firm, Hogensen Strategies Group. The firm focuses on paid communication and consulting for Democratic campaigns across the state and country, specializing in direct mail. We also do press, Web sites, other voter contact, and field operations.
Before I even started at Lawrence, I knew that I wanted to major in government and work in a related field. So when I began working for Congressman Steve Kagen’s first election campaign in January 2006 as an intern, I was very excited. I worked 15-20 hours per week doing fairly menial-seeming tasks — but eventually I earned a spot on his paid staff the summer after my junior year. Over the next five and a half months, over the summer and during fall term of my senior year, I worked 50-60 hours per week and climbed my way up in the campaign as a field coordinator for two counties, assistant fundraiser, and finally assistant to the campaign manager. Kagen won his election in November 2006.
It was on the campaign that I found out how much I loved politics — the people, the arguing, the excitement. This hands-on experience allowed me to mix academia with reality. It showed me that what I learned in the classroom had implications off-campus. This was an important lesson for me because I believed that the only thing that I was ready for after this school was more school.
After the campaign was over, I was offered a few jobs across the country in Boston, Virginia, upstate New York, and Milwaukee. I considered all of the components of each and chose, in an unlikely move, Milwaukee. This city offered me what I wanted at the time — a location close to home, a few friends in the area, a low-ish cost of living that matched my income, and a great opportunity to learn more about a field that I was interested in.
As corny as it is, Lawrence really did prepare me for my job, both academically and personally. I learned how to critically analyze situations, write quickly and clearly, handle massive amounts of work with what seems like no time to do it in, deal with people I don’t want to deal with, and have a strong, competitive work ethic. It didn’t prepare me, however, for absent landlords, paying bills, and all of the other hackneyed experiences that come up in the “real world.” But I guess they shouldn’t be expected to do it all. If it weren’t for Lawrence, I would not have had this opportunity. Two of my professors connected me with the Kagen campaign. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s all about who you know and what they can get you. What it does mean is that if you find something that you’re excited about, Lawrence can be a great resource.
The hardest part for me about being away from Lawrence is being away from the community. The remarkable thing about Lawrence is all of the little niches that exist and how everyone, even if they deny it, is really a nerd. Although I do have a friend group here in Milwaukee (and no, not all of them are Lawrence grads), it was harder to develop and find a group of people with whom you have things in common. At Lawrence, people’s lives are happening right in front of you — for better or worse, your choices are laid on display for most everyone to see (or at least hear about in Downer A the next day). Outside of Lawrence, it’s a little more private — which is good, but sometimes not as much fun.
What is great is that the “real world” doesn’t have homework at night or on the weekend — crazy, right? Crazy true! Day jobs actually do have their perks. You can have a social life without having those 15-30 pages you should be writing nagging at you while instead you’re drinking four beers at the VR on a Monday night. While Downer, Physical Plant, and free rides from Campus Security are things I often wish existed in Milwaukee, the independence of living without those safeties is also great. It’s a wonderful adult learning experience to have your ceiling fall in and your car broken into in the span of about five days. It teaches resilience and makes for a great sob story for your friends who still can call x6999.
Making the decision about what to do after graduation is the obvious, although elusive, first step. But from talking to other alumni and from my own experience, I’ve pieced together the following wise words: enjoy what you choose. At 22 or 23, resume building, in my opinion, doesn’t need to be your number-one priority. Yes, most of us want to build towards our career, even if we don’t know what that career will be yet. But given the choice, I would look for somewhere where you will actually want to be. Make enough money to start making those loan payments in December, pay rent, go out once in a while, and worry about the rest later. Yes, IRAs and savings accounts are important — especially, they say, to our generation. But then again, so is not wanting to poke out your eyes every morning when you wake up.