Charting a Life

Leila Jere '91In a matter of weeks, we’ll once again welcome more than 500 Williams seniors into our ranks. Students today have many more tools to research careers, seek out internships and graduate school programs and connect with potential employers and mentors. We already know that Williams alumni take networking seriously; the summer 2014 edition of Williams Magazine highlighted how diligent we are about this.

Often, graduating seniors and young alumni seek advice on how not to make a mistake. This is for a variety of reasons, including returning the investment their families made in their Williams educations, the tremendous effort put into achieving the math-econ double major with concentration in justice and law, and perceptions of high expectations and competition. They fear how it will look to employers if they take a one-year teaching position in Jordan, an internship with a foundation in South Africa or simply a few months to travel. They don’t want their re?sume?s to have “gaps” or appear non-linear.

No doubt many of us suffered the self-imposed anxiety that if we did not graduate into banking, law or medicine, we were not living up to expectations. Yet some of us embraced opportunities to travel across the U.S., teach English in Guatemala or move to Hong Kong in the hope of landing a job once we were there. What feels different among the current crop of seniors with whom I’ve spoken is that they perceive any deviations from the direct path to graduate school or a highly paid Silicon Valley job as risky to a career that could span 40 or 50 years.

Developing a career involves much more than pursuing a series of jobs involving title changes and salary increases. I’ve learned in the years since leaving Williams that a major benefit of a liberal arts education is precisely the condition of having choices. The act of choosing need not be binary, with the “other” option disappearing if not taken. Nor must our choices follow a linear path. Some of us have moved in new career directions when opportunities came our way. Some have spent time away from careers to raise children or take up other interests. Professional success can be measured by being qualified for, sought after and purposefully deciding among the numerous options open to us.

Many of us will be approached for help and advice by young grads as they go about finding a foothold beyond the Purple Valley. Thank you for the role you play in supporting them with introductions, jobs and places to live. More importantly, thank you for sharing with them what you’ve learned about charting a life.

Leila Jere ’91
President, Society of Alumni
[email protected]