This past Saturday, I managed social media and video, and took photos, at the annual UAlbany Alumni Excellence Awards gala. Going into my third year at the Alumni Association, this event is no longer “new”; however, the interactions I have with people always are, and you never, ever know what is going to be said during recipients’ remarks (this year didn’t disappoint.) This isn’t a summary of the evening, though – I’ll save that for the alumni website. This is more of a self discovery, reflecting, “wow, how did I get here?” piece.
Once upon a time, I was a first generation college student with her sights set on law school. My parents wanted to see me succeed in a way they never had the means of doing themselves, such is the story of most first-gen students. Halfway through college, I admitted to myself that I felt trapped as a creative person. I wasn’t happy with the major I’d chosen (criminal justice) although the faculty at Marshall University were absolutely fantastic. It wasn’t their fault that I fell out of love with my course of study and wanted nothing more than to jump over to graphic design, or journalism. I teased the idea of sneaking in a figure drawing class, but my schedule never allowed it. My grades were damn near perfect and I was good at school. So, at the beginning of my junior year, I tried to “reconvince” myself that since I was doing so well, I should stick to the original plan.
It was around this time that Facebook launched, exclusively for college students.
After sitting in on a child abuse and neglect case as an intern at the end of my junior year, I absolutely knew the law path was not for me. I wanted to illustrate what was happening in the court room, rather than pay attention to what was being said because it was much too troubling to listen to. My heart couldn’t take it, and really, all I wanted was a set of colored pencils and a sketch pad. At that point, my goal became: JUST FINISH THIS. Graduate. On time, with honors, and find a job – any job – after flipping my tassel to the other side of the mortarboard. On graduation day, I nearly choked on all of the multi-colored decorations hanging around my neck (no, really), symbolizing all the hard work I’d put in to my college education. I got a little teary-eyed when the late Robert C. Byrd recognized first generation college students during the Commencement ceremony. I had so much Marshall pride, but very little confidence in what I was going to do next.
I wrote policies and procedures, created pretty charts based off data, and read treatment plans as a quality assurance assistant at a large drug & alcohol treatment agency in Ohio for five years. During that time, my friends were getting engaged, married, buying homes, new cars, having kids. My husband and I had no idea where we were going to end up, as his future was in the hands of graduate school and the academic job market. I blogged about all of this, and with social networks blowing up, I had a means to share my story with everyone, not just friends and family. The emergence of Twitter and Facebook’s expansion to everyone, not just college students, came at the right time. And then, I learned I’d be moving to Albany.
You know the rest after that. I started blogging here, at the Times Union, a month before physically relocating to the area. Blogging gave me a platform to completely change my career path; my husband was fully supportive of all the content I was pushing out there (“just don’t say anything embarrassing about me,” he would hope out loud) and Mike Huber gave me the thumbs up to publish my adventure of West Virginian-moves-to-New-York here.
So, this past Saturday evening, as I was taking photos of the Distinguished Alumni award recipient and her family and friends on the Albany Country Club patio, it really hit me hard: I’m lucky, and also very proud of my unconventional career path. I thought, “I wish my mom could see this in person,” as she likely watched what I was doing via social media from her house in WV. One single decision could’ve prevented all of this awesome stuff from happening. During all of those confusing post-graduation years, I believed in the power of social media and blogging, and my husband didn’t judge me for the amount of time I spent on it, so I kept on going. And, I’m still going – and loving every second.
So, to all the confused soon-to-be grads out there, as your big day comes closer, fear not: just stick to what you really love, work hard, and it’ll hopefully become something you can (happily) make a living doing. Make worthy connections with good people, grow relationships and share your story with others, build and trust in your support system whether it’s a significant other, family members, friends, and/or faculty, and believe in yourself even when you think your ideas might be a little unrealistic. If someone had told me, the confused Class of 2006 grad who sat in an uncomfortable dress and gown, that I’d be doing the cool stuff I’m doing now, I would’ve laughed and cried so, so hard.
Thank you, social media.
And coffee – you deserve a “thank you” as well.