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Volume 41. No. 1.
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Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
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Alumni Voices

One Year Later (Or Why ’03 is Still OK)

In May, I had the pleasure of visiting Pomona for Commencement 2004. It was my first visit to campus since graduating a year before, and it was at once warmly familiar and sadly uncomfortable.

Talking and enjoying the California sun at the campus center with my fellow graduates and traveling companions, Nathan Fisher ’03 and Aaron Goldsmith ’03, felt easy and natural. But when we took the inevitable alumni tour of our old dorm rooms, it was awkward to see the thinly veiled looks of disapproval from the current inhabitants. Neither those rooms, nor Pomona in general, belonged to us anymore. We were just “those guys who already graduated.”

I thought about this on Sunday during Commencement, my nostalgia building to a crescendo as the proceedings in Big Bridges mirrored the day I had become one of “those guys.”

It’s a Hard Knock Life...
On Class Day. May 17, 2003, I explained that our class banner slogan—’03 is OK—meant our parents, teachers and advisers could stop worrying about us, because we were finally ready and able to take care of ourselves. On May 18, presiding over his final Commencement ceremony, President Peter Stanley sent us forth to bear our added riches in trust for mankind. The next day, after throwing away the majority of my worldly possessions in order to make the noon deadline for moving out, I left Pomona the same way I had arrived four years earlier—in a blue SuperShuttle van, sobbing.

Like Ralph in William Golding’s "The Lord of the Flies," I cried for the lost innocence of mankind but specifically for what I felt would be the rude awakening of the idealistic members of the Class of ’03 to the harsh realities of post-Pomona life. Now, a year later, I found that the recurring theme in conversations with my fellow grads was the difficulty of adjusting to a brave new world after our banishment from the happiest campus in the land.

Nate and Aaron had both crashed headfirst into reality almost immediately, as Aaron described his first few months out of Pomona as “a period of unemployment and depression,” while Nate admitted that he had sometimes cried himself to sleep. For senior-year roommates, Sarah Rich ’03 and Sara Sherrod ’03, the realization came later in the year when the daily grind of nine to five—or in some cases nine to six, seven, eight or later—became a source of stress. After moving to New York in August 2003, to begin her job as a research assistant at MDRC, a nonprofit social policy research organization, Sarah described the difficult transition “from the everyday freedom of loosely structured time at college to the strict daily hours of the working world.” Likewise, Sara said she found her new role as an assistant director at the Score! educational center in Arcadia, California, unfulfilling at the outset. Putting in 10 hours a day, she discovered that she was too exhausted to enjoy what little spare time she had.

As a junior analyst for Deutsche Bank in San Francisco, Gil Nye ’03 topped all of our stories, working nearly 72 hours in one stretch to meet a deadline. (He called to tell me this on a Saturday afternoon while taking a break at the office.)

For a period of time, I too found myself working late as an executive trainee at the offices of Ruder Finn, a leading public relations agency in New York. I didn’t really mind though, since it gave me an excuse to avoid going home. Unable to afford a studio apartment in New York City—or to find a roommate from Pomona like so many of my peers—I wound up sharing a three-bedroom apartment in Queens for eight months with two roommates I found through the most widely-used resource of our generation, www.craigslist.com. The roommate I met before moving in was a socially awkward 30-year-old European man, the one I met later was a 40-plus year-old divorced man who impersonated Austin Powers on the streets of New York to earn his keep. I quickly grew to hate them both.

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow...
Gradually, the tears dried up, and as the initial shock of entering the real world wore off and the conditions of my new life improved, I stopped longing to return to the safety of Pomona.
At Ruder Finn, I was promoted to assistant account executive, with my own office. More importantly, I got to know my coworkers and started to feel that I belonged on the team. The promotion also offered me the opportunity to move on up to the East Side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky.

Sara’s outlook on life improved in the second half of the year when she did a complete 180-degree turnaround on her job. After a heart-to-heart with her manager, Sara realized there was more to her job. “I saw for the first time how many skills I was building,” she said. “By the end of 2004, I’ll have the valuable experience of basically running my own business.”

The turnaround moment for Patty Van Kuran ’03 came when she made the opposite decision—to leave her job. Even though she was living five minutes from the beautiful sandy beaches of Hawaii, her life in paradise was tainted by long hours spent in an unrewarding job with a nonprofit youth organization. “I realized that I had no more to learn in the position and could be using my time for much better things. I had to swallow my pride and resign. Even though I hated the feeling of giving up, I knew it was for the best.” Shortly thereafter, her decision was vindicated when she found a human resources job with the Bank of Hawaii that sparked a career interest in marketing and recruiting.

As our work-lives improved—or perhaps because they did—so did our personal lives. After graduation, Nate worked odd jobs as an interior house painter and liquor store clerk in his hometown of Minneapolis before packing his bags one day and moving to the Bay Area for a new start. Through craigslist, he found not only his current job as a music editor for Live365.com, but also a group of roommates that embraced him as part of an extended family. In the Bay Area, Nate found old Pomona friends, including Aaron, who has long since recovered from his initial slump and now works as a special assistant to the Mayor’s Office in San Francisco (where, for a brief time, his duties included marrying gay couples). More recently, Nate said he was starting to build a new network of friends: “Lately, I’ve been going out a lot more with people from work or women I meet through online personal ads. Yeah, I still love reminiscing when I’m with Pomona people but I’ve moved on, you know? Life is beautiful!”

The Class of ’03 Is (Still) OK...
When I turned my attention back to this year’s commencement ceremony, first-year President David Oxtoby was taking the podium to deliver his charge to the Class of ’04. He started by recounting some of the events of the past year, a year he described as a “trial by fire.” I chuckled as I considered how I would add to that analogy and say that by comparison, the next year for the new graduates of 2004 will be an inferno of biblical proportions—from the frustration of job searches to the loneliness of moving to new cities, to the stress of long work weeks.

But as Patty summarized when asked to reflect upon her first post-baccalaureate year, “Pomona is definitely a bubble, and there is extreme culture shock when you leave. But if you get through the first year with minimal bumps and bruises, then you are on your way to great things.” 
Ji Chong ’03

If you are interested in writing an essay for this space on a subject of specific interest to other alumni, please send a proposal to the editor at mwood@pomona.edu.
 
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