How 5 Millennial Graduates Feel About Entering the Workforce

Goodbye dorm life. Say hello to Reality!

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On May 22, 2019, Yankee Stadium will be cloaked in a sea of violet. This year will be New York University's 187th All-University Commencement Exercise, and amidst a mighty school of anxious seniors swimming upstream to the Bronx will be me—sweating profusely in a purple cap and gown. 

My graduation will probably play out like any other. Tears will be shed. A commencement speaker will sanctify the podium, spreading his gospel. And thousands of seniors will clutch their diplomas proudly, tossing their caps up as their dreams follow suit, soaring up into the ether above where it might catch some ray of luck. 

The idea of graduation can take on the tendency of a romantic, adventure-quest novel. We are all—conceivably—armed with useful knowledge, standing on the edge of a new world called Reality that brims with opportunity, adventure, and hopefully enough rent money. But wait, how do I apply for a savings account? Also, what's a checkbook again?

But for some, the shift from collegiate life to the real world can be jarring. Some of us are saddled with backbreaking debt, while others are just as directionless as they were during orientation week. In New York City, the impulse to be financially independent, an orthodox bare minimum of adulthood, is easily dampened by the endless accretion of urban-living expenses. Can I be happy and healthy in a cramped basement with four other roommates? 

What kind of dreams do college seniors have for the future? Has disillusionment wholly consumed their confidence, or has their four year stint in academia landed them in "job land." As graduation season approaches this May, ONE37pm sat down with four New York University students to gauge their feelings on the matter.

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Kate Dowdy in her apartment / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Kate Dowdy

My name is Kate Dowdy. I am a senior at Gallatin and my concentration is “Cultivating Balance, A Contemporary approach to Embodied Healing." So I'm looking at approaches to mental health, even questioning the phrasing of “mental health” in this binary of mental health and mental illness. Talking about the body connection, or mind-body problem, which is how the mind and the body are related. Bringing the East and the West together from a historical perspective, psychological perspective.

I've known you for quite a while now, since freshman year, and compared to someone that's studying something like economics, you're not going in necessarily for a conventional interview for an office job. So can you tell me what your dream job is, or at least what you envision yourself doing after college? Maybe for the next few years?

When I did my teacher training, in my gap year between high school and coming to NYU, I never wanted to be a yoga teacher because I never wanted it to be about money. I never wanted it to be something I had to do. It was so sacred to me and my mental health that I didn't want to jeopardize that. I came to NYU in the Liberal Studies program, which is a two-year program. You have to transfer out at the end, and I had no idea what school I would transfer into. I found out about Gallatin around the same time that I did a continuing professional development [CPD] yoga training on trauma-informed yoga where the woman who was presenting realized that she could run around and teach as many people as possible and completely exhaust herself, or she could work on researching yoga and finding empirical evidence that meets the Western scientific paradigm to potentially create a specific type of trauma-informed yoga as something that might be offered by insurance. So that and being aware of Gallatin made me realize that pursuing yoga didn't mean following the yoga studio teaching model. So what I've been working toward more recently is becoming some sort of yoga therapist. I'm thinking of applying to Naropa, a Buddhist university in Colorado. At end of three years, I'd be a licensed counselor in all 50 states and most countries, and it brings the East and the West together. So that's my next step on my "not-so-career" path.

I think like a big hurdle to pursuing higher education is the cost of it. What's your opinion on America's student debt crisis?

America is truly bewildering in health care, in education. I definitely think that we should question the idea that you need to get a degree to legitimize yourself. My whole thing is about balance. So balancing, you know, genuine criticisms of the system with the realization that to some extent we have to work within, or at the very least acknowledge, a system that exists. When you are thinking about education, financial considerations absolutely have to come into play. Nothing exists in isolation. That being said, a bunch of people said to me after I did my [yoga] teacher training, “Why are you going to university? You could just teach.” I mean, at the time, I didn't want to teach, so that was what my decision was based on. But equally, I do think that was a valuable experience to my education. I just wouldn't equate that value with a ridiculous amount of dollars. It is valuable, but does it have to be monetary and can’t the government help?

Can you envision a future for yourself in New York?

I have been talking to people about how the competitive nature of New York can be amazing for learning and surrounding yourself with incredible people. But once you transition more into trying to give back into the world, trying to do something, the cutthroat competition isn't good for everyone's personality. And I'm thinking maybe I'd like to move somewhere where, not the middle of nowhere, but somewhere where I feel like I'm truly offering something unique. But I don’t know where I am going to live when I “grow up.”

I definitely think that we should question the idea that you need to get a degree to legitimize yourself

- Kate Dowdy

Yeah. I've just been sort of calculating the numbers myself, and the math isn't exactly adding up in my favor. What are you willing to do to make it work here financially? If you're going to stay here, how many jobs are you willing to take on, and are you OK with living with roommates?

Yes to roommates. Not close friends though—not worth risking your friendships. I would definitely move out of Manhattan. But also, I'm not thinking about this in terms of a long-term thing. As I mentioned, I'm planning on going to grad school, and I'm currently toying between the idea of taking a gap year or going straight to university as they have a rolling admissions process, so I still could go in the fall. If I take a gap year, I don't think I would renew my lease because I might not want to be here the whole time. I’d willing to Airbnb—Airbnb can be pretty reasonable sometimes. I'd be willing to live in someone else's space, but it depends what you mean by working multiple jobs. I currently work multiple jobs because I teach at multiple studios. But if we're talking hours, I need to sleep. That’s where I draw the line.

Don't we all! That's very fair. So tell me what is the most exciting thing about graduating?

I am planning a yoga retreat with my friend Arielle, an NYU graduate, during a long weekend in June. It's going to be from June 21st to the 23rd, and it will take place upstate at this amazing place called Growing Heart Farm—an organic and sustainable farm. It's really exciting! We are calling it "The Breath and Exploratory Movement," and what we're really trying to get across is...well, mindfulness can be defined as paying attention to the present moment without judgment. So we are trying to evoke that mindfulness during the retreat. We are offering yogis choices on their mats to listen to their own bodies. We're gonna have vinyasa, faster-pace yoga flows in the morning, followed by a community breakfast. In the evenings, we're going to have a slow-flow-style class. On Saturday evening, it will be a slower-paced class. We're going to have other opportunities as well. I'm going to make smoothies, and you can come learn if you want, or you can just enjoy our offerings. We are going to be making energy balls, too, and have a fireside chat one evening. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

In my eyes, when you are in your early twenties, the world can be very intimidating, and you might not know exactly what you want to do, but this is also a period of our lives when we should take those big risks and feel excited to do so. If there is anything graduates should be excited and/or optimistic about, what should that be?

Bringing back to mindfulness: just give yourself a moment to be in the present moment and be like, “Yes, I did this!” I'm so close to the finish line, and I've got less than a semester left, and I'm thinking about all of the times throughout my time at NYU I was like, “I wasn't made for the classroom. I can't do this." And being like, "Yeah, I can do this." It is really important to celebrate how much you've accomplished, even if you don't have a 4.0 GPA because you don't need that to be happy. So definitely acknowledge that. You don't need to have a job the day after you graduate. Of course, you need to be thinking about your future, but also if you find a job and it's not your dream job, but you might learn something from that experience, you should feel fine about that. Your first job doesn't have to be the best job ever. You're not gonna have it forever.

The second thing I was going to say—I don't know how much it applies to other people's academic journey—but I feel like I've been consuming, processing so much and not really putting back much. I've been writing essays, but it's not really the same. As I’ve been working on building this retreat, I’ve had the opportunity to manifest the knowledge that I’ve accumulated. So I would say to any student about to graduate that they should try to put to use all of their learnings and be confident about it!

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Michael Look outside of Madison Square Garden / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm
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Alex Wei outside of Madison Square Garden / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Micheal Look & Alex Wei

My name is Michael Look. I’m 21 and about to graduate from NYU studying Sports Business.

I’m Alex Wei. Also 21. Last semester, studying Business.  

Have you started your job hunt yet, and what's the application process been like?

Alex Wei: Well, I interned for a bank this past summer, and thankfully they offered me a job, so I'm just going to be working with them this summer in June. Basically, I’m working with them on like debt products. So it's just helping them do something, but it's mostly just going to be groundwork from the beginning. There is a learning curve, but eventually, you get a good grasp over it.

Micheal Look: I’m in the initial talks right now [for a job]. I'm interning currently at Madison Square Garden, working with the Knicks and Rangers. I really want to get into sports, specifically basketball. So I had the initial interview with MSG in a technology role. I also had a phone call yesterday with the NBA. We'll see where that goes, but nothing set yet.

When did you kind of figure out what industry you wanted to work within, and what point in your college career did you make that decision?

Wei: I didn't want to study business coming into it, but my dad was like, you should probably go to the school, it’s a good school. I said OK. Coming from high school, I wasn't too confident in my own career driving moves because I was 17, 18, so I just let my dad make that decision. At a certain point I knew I’d be able to change my path. I never really decided to do that though because I didn't hate it, and I didn't love it. I think toward the end of my career, when I actually got some industry experience, I could see myself doing it, and I do enjoy it.

Look: My first love was definitely basketball. I played high school basketball at Our Bishop Malloy and in order to even play, I needed to practice three hours a day, every single day, the whole summer. So, you know, almost all of my time, all my focus Iwas around basketball. And then after high school, I didn't really think I was going to play college ball. So I really had to find what to do with all my time. Then I saw an opportunity at a NYU’s SPS [School of Professional Studies] studying Sports Business where my career could still be revolved around something that I love. What I do now in work, doing data analytics for basketball, it’s not necessarily involved with basketball and the skills that you need to play it, but it's something that I was willing to do.

With so many young adults pursuing higher education, the currency of a bachelor’s degree has really plummeted in the last five to ten years––are you considering going back to school for a Masters, even a Ph.D.?

Look: One thing that my dad always advised me was that I should get my bachelor's, work, see what type of work and what actual money you're going to be making in that job industry, and if you want a change in your career, then that's when you go for your master's. Or if you really know that you want to advance in that field, then you go for a master's. But it's just such a heavy investment that you really need to be sure. I think you need a couple of years of work to be informed of what you should do with it. If you're an art major, you could go to business school and get a job in finance if you wanted that. Or if you're in finance and you don't like it, then you can absolutely like go into something else that you enjoy more, or even become a MD after you get your master’s.

I’ve definitely had a great time in college, but it’s not real life. You have to remember that you're still here for a reason

- Alex Wei

I know that you both mentioned that two of your roommates are not excited to graduate. Can you tell me more about that?

Look: I think me and Alex kind of see it as an opportunity. There's just a whole new world afterward. I guess the position that we're in. I think for them, they don't have a job set up. So it's more about the fear of it, of not knowing what's to come. I think they see it more as a wake-up call than an opportunity. I guess it is a difference in mindset.

Wei: We're both from Chinese households too. So if you are going to tackle the issue from a cultural standpoint, up until you're 12, 13, you are very coddled, but at a certain point they expect you to pull your own weight. Personally, I always viewed my life from the perspective of the youngest in my family, and when you see everyone else starting to pull themselves up and support their livelihood, it motivates you. Life after college is my chance to be like, “Listen, I wasn't just here hanging out for the entire time. I've actually been thinking about doing stuff on my own.” It's an opportunity to able to prove yourself in your own way as well.

To what extent does the model minority myth affect you?

Wei: I think like the detriments that come with being a model minority are outweighed by the benefits. When you're expected to take on so much work and be the spitting image of what a successful college student should be, especially when you have like the support and infrastructure behind you, it's definitely a good pressure and important not to get comfortable. I’ve definitely had a great time in college, but it’s not real life. You have to remember that you're still here for a reason, even going back to your great ancestors. Even though you should have the right to pursue your own dreams, it's also realizing that while you get after those passions that there are many people and so much history behind you that personally you want to add upon that. So I’m excited to do that.

Look: You know, it is something that you got to take in as part of your story. My grandma grew up on a farm and sold pigs for us to come to America. She didn't like waste all that time and energy for me to just mess around throughout my whole college career. My family’s history is definitely a motivator for me.

Would you say it is something like an immigrant mentality?

Wei: Yeah. I think the balance for us is like finding out what they would have wanted, but also realizing that they don't have the full picture of what like the “modern American dream” is. Even though I owe everything I have to them, it is still my own life. You steer your own ship, but you can still honor your family by being successful and happy.

My family’s history is definitely a motivator for me

- Micheal Look

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Kendall Fletcher in her NYU apartment / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Kendall Fletcher

I’m Kendall Fletcher. I’m from Philadelphia, a small town right outside, called Ardmore, Pennsylvania. I was born in Princeton, and stayed there a year or two, then moved to New Haven when I was like 6, and then moved to Philly. So I’ve been growing up there ever since. I am 22.

When did you start NYU? 

Fletcher: 2015. I study Media, Culture and Communication with a minor in Entertainment Business.

Why come to the city?

Fletcher: I thought I wanted to be a publicist. I knew I wanted to live in L.A., so I wanted to go to school in the opposite industry base than where I wanted to live post-grad. I knew New York and L.A. were the only two options for entertainment, so I wanted to experience New York before spending the majority of my time in L.A.

Is that still the plan?

Fletcher: Yes! I knew that I wanted to move to L.A. since I was 14. But everything that I wanted to do has evolved. When I entered, I wanted to be a publicist. But as I continued to have internships and time went on, I realized I wanted to be more creative and be there as the action is happening as opposed to planning and arranging it. I’m still figuring things out. I’m taking classes at Tisch for my minor, but I think I want to direct or write and be in the room as ideas are happening.

You mentioned to me that you wished you attended Gallatin instead of Steinhardt. Does any part of you regret this major? 

Fletcher: No, I think it’s more because I realized my interests were more creatively aligned [at Gallatin]. But by the time I realized it, I was already a junior so I wanted to finish. But my minor is really cool, I was able to take an extra elective. So I’m taking playwriting at Gallatin. My major is really flexible in terms of what you can do with it. There have been people in the past who’ve done creative stuff. It’s cool to see the Tisch classes. I’ve gotten to PA. I was at SNL this past semester interning. One of the other people is doing her master's at NYU so I got to be a PA on her short film.

Does your job at Starbucks cause any friction in your life?

Fletcher: My friends and I joke that the side hustle is necessary. It’s another universe in which I exist. It’s just something I do. I really enjoyed working at Nordstrom. It pushed me to sell X amount of clothing items. One of my bosses from Lionsgate ended up coming to my department to shop, so there is occasional crossover. It helps to keep me grounded. I like being in environments around multiple types of people. Creatively, it’s important to not surround myself with...It’s nice to meet people who are different than me. I like both. I’m learning about valuable work ethic in both.

A lot of my friends are the same way. A fair amount of my friends in the entertainment industry come from middle-class environments. It’s not a given. Unpaid internships in general are an interesting phenomenon. I had one unpaid, then went paid and didn’t go back. Unpaid is hard if you’re not in a position of privilege to be able to afford to do it. The only reason I was able to do mine is because my parents paid for my subway each week, which is like $20 per week, which adds up each week. I was in NYU housing, so I didn’t have to pay rent. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that.

I have a friend who did an unpaid internship here in New York City and her parents put her up in a huge apartment in Soho. They were paying rent and groceries and anything she could’ve wanted. So she was able to do unpaid. I think people should be paid. It limits who can come to the table. It’s important to keep, to hear, a multitude of voices coming to the table.

It didn’t matter where I went, as long as I got a degree

- Kendall Fletcher

As a woman of color, what sort of obstacles do you face in the industry?

Fletcher: My boss at The Late Late Show was a woman of color who looked out for me in that space. She advocated for having a diverse crew. It was really inspiring to me. This is just something that happened over my four years. I went to a show—it was very overwhelming for me. There were hundreds of people going to see the show, but it was all white people. I’m just light skinned, but there were so many people who were white. Stepping into that space was one of the first times that I was...shook. I was actively aware that I was a person of color in a very white space. It’s a slow progress. A lot of the places that I interned before have a little bit more representation now. It’s going to be a while before there is widespread change, but people are starting to realize that people of color and other minorities can only add to the experience. People say, Oh that story won't sell because they include X community. But movies like Black Panther show that, yes, they will sell. I feel creatively that people should want to include those voices. With the over-saturation of content, there are hundred and hundreds of shows and movies––it's important to try to explore the voices of marginalized communities.

Taking things that people don’t recognize can be impactful. Like American Girl dolls. I remember growing up the only black doll was Addie and she was a slave. I looked on the site the other day, and they’re more diverse now. There is more that can be done, but it’s a good time to come into the industry. People are realizing that diversity is important, but are just starting to implement it into their spaces. Take the movie Detroit. It was based off the African-American experience during this sad and powerful moment in time, but it was written by all white people and directed by all white people. That’s not to say that white people can’t write about things like that, because that defeats the purpose of what the creative process is, and the movie itself was very diverse. But they missed the mark. You’re telling me that out of the hundreds of people on that project that you couldn’t find one person of color to be in the writer’s room? Especially since it’s coming from that experience. It only benefits you to have someone from that community in the writer’s room. If it’s all people who think and have the same lived experiences in the same way. It feels like you should provide other communities to use the mic.

Will you have debt?

Fletcher: I’m lucky that my parents have been working to pay off a significant portion of my loans. My parents have always had the mentality…I’ve never been pushed in one direction. My parents have said things like you can study underwater basket weaving if that’s what you want to do. Have a plan and know what you want to do, but the expectation was always that I would get an undergraduate degree from a four-year college. It didn’t matter where I went, as long as I got a degree. My parents have been really supportive.

Any advice for someone who is just graduating high school?

Fletcher: I don’t think that I would be where I am today in any capacity if it weren’t for my education. I think in entertainment, it is possible to do it. But your options are limited if you don’t have any connections. If you don’t have a degree, it’s very limited. If you don’t have both, it’ll be near impossible to break in. It gives you more options. You don’t have to get a degree from a prestigious university. You can go to a variety of different schools from all over the map. Ivy schools to less well known. It goes to show that education is important. Being in NYC, doing year-round internships has been helpful. I’m involved in an entertainment club at school. I’m the VP of Mentorship, and I created a new subsection to be VP of Mentorship and Diversity Initiatives. I’m really passionate about representation in entertainment. I’ve met fellow students of color and different backgrounds. Internships are great to meet people and make connections.

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Lauren Macintyre Cunfer in her apartment / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Lauren Macintyre Cunfer

I'm 21. I grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the chocolate company town. And then, my senior year of high school my family moved to Philly. I’ve been in New York for the past four years at NYU.

What do you study?

Cunfer: So I’m in Gallatin, which is [NYU's] School of Individualized Study. I’ve been there for the past two years, and so at that school you develop your own concentration. And so the title of mine is “The Relationship Between the Artist and Audience." So I’ve taken a lot of theater and media studies courses, mostly. It all, rather than a thesis or something else in other schools in NYU, it culminates in a colloquium, which is a two-hour conversation with three professors that you choose about the topic of your conversation. You come prepared with thirty books that relate to it, and then you talk about it. So I just scheduled mine the other week for April.

Why did you choose to study this?

Cunfer: I really loved the school Gallatin. It’s so open-ended and there are a few requirements I got out of the way my first few years in a liberal studies program, and then by the time you get to Gallatin, there isn’t a set requirements for your major because you made your own one. It's all really small, discussion-based, roundtable classes with interesting topics for courses. I chose my concentration because it is the main thing I’ve always been interested in. I’ve done a lot of playwriting in high school and college. I was in a play at an NYU festival two months ago that I’ve been working on, so that was cool. I’m hoping to become a literary manager for a theater company. I sort of discovered that through internships that I’ve had. Reading plays and curating the season, as well as doing playwriting on the side. I was fascinated by the role or responsibility of the artist. Through that, I decided to expand it to all forms of media, so looking at the musician and the fan, TV, film, celebrity fan relationships too. I took a class on celebrity studies––just analyzed Kylie Jenner every day. The whole Gallatin thing is interdisciplinary studies, so I’ve had a range of all these relationships between artists and audiences. So I’m excited to take that into working in the theater or with audiences in some way.

Is there a job out there for you?

Cunfer: I’ve been talking with my friends about this a lot recently. I’ve worked as an intern at a Broadway theater company and off-Broadway theater company, a theatrical agency, and now I’m at a TV and film talent management company. It sort of scares me in that I feel very secure as an intern. I know what to do. I have this role, and I deserve to be at this level. It’s sort of bizarre. That the people who will be me next year are currently my bosses. It just seems so all-knowing and superior to me. So it’s sort of daunting. I don’t know how to take the step from intern to this. Do I deserve to have that role? Through those internships and talking to my supervisors who are 23, 24, they’ve given me the confidence to think. They’ve said that they also had no idea what they were doing when they first started out in a starting position, and I’ll figure it out. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life like two years ago. I liked theater and I liked writing, but I wanted a more secure job. But through my last internship I was talking to the literary managers at this theater company MCC that I worked at, who were…one of them was actually a Gallatin graduate and in their early 20s. They were like, yeah this is a job that you can do. So I was like, okay that is a job I would really want. So I followed that path. So for the first time, I have my sights set on a path, so that makes me feel better.

I definitely feel like I’m taking a risk

- Lauren Macintyre Cunfer

What are your feelings about the workforce?

Cunfer: I’m fearful. I get very sentimental and emo about the ending of an era. I’m trying not to take the last semester for granted. It's wild to think that I’m never going to take another class again. All of a sudden, I’m obsessed with learning in class. But I’m excited to start something new. I have options, but I don’t have any secure thing right now, so it’s scary. Come May, I could be out…I just have to find work, which I’ve never had to do before. Gotta pay rent all by myself. All my friends are going through the same thing together, freaking out. A few friends are looking into living together over the summer, looking at rent in neighborhoods. So it feels nice to have that support system, but I’m definitely more fearful than ready to leave school. I wish I could do another year of school.

What are your thoughts on people who have more surefire career path?

Cunfer: I definitely feel like I’m taking a risk. I have a lot of different interests. I could’ve done something completely different at Gallatin. There are plenty of other things I also wanted to do. But any job where I would have that much level of security, I would be miserable. Hearing from friends who are a year older, they don’t have a life. They aren’t in love with their job. I don’t feel resentment or jealousy that they feel secure and have money. But I don't wish I was them. The balance of finding a job that makes you happy and makes money…I’d rather end up more happy than something that is a business job. I think I’ve chosen the right thing.

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