What Next? Alumni Navigate the Post-Grad Years

In light of Homecoming, recent alumni reflect on the years right after graduation

by Emily Wadlow | 11/2/22 2:15am

by Oliver De Jonghe / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

From freshmen to seniors, Homecoming serves as a way for the Dartmouth community to reunite and celebrate the start of a new academic year. Additionally, the bonfire attracts alumni — particularly young alumni —  as they seek to relive their college glory days and take a walk down memory lane. Although Dartmouth may look the same to these recent graduates, they themselves have grown exponentially during their first few years, or even months, in the real world.

Dartmouth prides itself on preparing students for success in the real world, but nevertheless, many graduates experience feelings of uncertainty and confusion regarding their future, especially during their first few years out of college. 

Hannah O’Flynn ’15 looks back on her first several years after graduating as a time of ambiguity, but also exploration. While she currently holds her dream job as a producer, talent and social media manager at ESPN, O’Flynn had a less direct path to this career than many of her Dartmouth peers, who underwent corporate recruiting or followed a pre-medical track. 

Having majored in film and media studies, O’Flynn said that in regards to what career she wanted to pursue, “I had no idea, but I just knew I really liked thinking creatively, I really liked video production, I loved sports [and] I loved music.” 

With only her passions and convictions to go off of, O’Flynn said that she felt unsure of her next steps towards finding a stable job doing what she loved.

“Out of graduation [I] was really struggling finding a starting role that I had felt was going the direction I wanted it to be,” O’Flynn said. “[You] have this gut feeling especially out of graduating or even looking for roles your senior year where you just know if something will fit…and that is all you can look to.”

Recent alumna Jada Brown ’21 finds herself far from her initial plan to study forensics and pursue a career in criminology. Brown changed her focus to childhood development towards the end of her time at Dartmouth, and is now working as a behavioral therapist. 

When reflecting on her feelings surrounding this shift, Brown said, “I normally never felt very anxious about my career choices. I think a lot of my anxiety came with a sudden career change close to graduating… but my anxiety went out the window because I loved what I was doing.” 

Brown believes her ability to cope with big changes comes from her “go with the flow” mentality. Down the line, Brown hopes to combine her love for both criminology and children by working with kids in the criminal justice system. 

“I think I found my calling… [because] I love working with kids every day,” Brown said.

Brown said that she found little help from Dartmouth when exploring next steps. She explained that the career center and fairs were not geared towards jobs in the psychology field, and she instead had to find opportunities independently or with the help of professors. 

“I think it was more stressful… [because] I had to rely on my own advocacy skills… [but] I learned a lot from not having as many Dartmouth resources,” Brown said.

Conversely, Kamila Zakowicz ’22 felt that she had a somewhat straightforward path out of college. She was a pre-med student at Dartmouth and knew that after graduating she wanted to take a gap year before attending medical school.

“I had a very specific goal and I was applying to jobs I wanted,” Zakowicz said. 

Zakowicz is currently working as a clinical research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital and taking time to address the weaker parts of her medical school application by gaining more practical clinical skills — a common step for aspiring doctors. 

“Part of pre-med is having a predetermined path,” she explained. But despite having a clearer view of her next steps than others, Zakowicz ended up making the last-minute decision to take a second gap year before entering medical school in order to further strengthen her application.

All three of these graduates chased wildly different careers, and despite being at different stages in their journeys, many shared similar reflections on post-college life. Each one of them is working in a field they enjoy, with jobs that allow them to pursue their passions while working towards new opportunities. Nonetheless, at times they have all felt doubt, uncertainty and anxiety about their next steps. 

For anyone feeling anxiety surrounding graduation, O’Flynn said that her favorite saying is, “If the opportunity doesn’t exist — create it.”

“If you apply to something [and] you don’t hear back but there is something you know you really want to do, go off on your own,” O’Flynn said. “Really work on your connections and your craft.”

Living independently and entering the post-college workforce sometimes means dealing with complicated emotions and imagining alternate futures. But whether the future feels clearly laid out or shrouded by an indeterminate haze, the homecoming bonfire has a way of welcoming graduates back into its glow. As its embers die out and alumni return to their new homes away from Hanover, they return to new lives as well. If these women are any indication, that can be something to look forward to.