Becoming a Graduate Student Changed My Life

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Graduation day comes with a whirlwind of emotions. First you’re excited about where the world will take you next; then you’re bummed that your best friends for the last four years suddenly won’t be next door anymore. Either way, one thing is for sure: hearing your name called as you walk across that stage will leave you feeling empowered, knowing that the years of sleepless nights, hard work, and dedication all culminate in that very moment.

What happens next is different for everyone. You’ll see your colleagues and closest friends start new lives across the country, land amazing dream jobs, or even get married to their college sweethearts. However, if you’re anything like me, you don’t have a “next.” You have a bunch of “what if’s?” and questioning why you went to college anyway.

I graduated from Penn State University, which has one of the best communications schools in the country. As a public relations major, I learned about the ins and outs of advertising, public relations, and marketing. I had amazing professors who pushed me out of my comfort zone and had students working with real-world clients. I got introduced to public relations professionals for networking opportunities, was invited to fancy dinners, and even competed in student marketing competitions. I was a great student. My professors, colleagues, and family members had reason to believe I would make a great publicist one day. The only problem was, it took me four years of college, two internships, and a job to realize I did not have a passion for what I learned to be so good at.

"I realized the harsh realities of life after college, and I felt that the thousands of dollars my parents spent to put me through such a prestigious university somehow wasn’t enough."

Postgrad depression was absolutely real. I was back at home having to do chores, my college friends were far away, and the great guy I had just started dating during my last semester of college now lived four hours away from me. I applied to endless jobs, hoping to land an interview for at least one. I had a degree from Penn State, professional work experience, and a decent resume. I realized the harsh realities of life after college, and I felt that the thousands of dollars my parents spent to put me through such a prestigious university somehow wasn’t enough.

After six months of feeling lost and confused, I decided to continue working on myself and take on new opportunities that came my way. One of my sister’s friends knew I was a recent college grad and he approached me to become a writer for his urban-culture magazine. At the time, writing wasn’t something I was excited about, but I thought it would be a good idea to try it out. Within three months, I was covering events like New York Fashion Week, interviewing celebrities like Raz-B from the 2000s boy band B2K, and learning how to use video, photography, and social media to tell stories.

I was feeling passion for my work again, and I was excited about the work I was doing. The range of topics I covered began to expand — I was writing stories about important issues within the LGBTQ community and connecting with other journalists in the industry. After a year of working for this magazine, I became inspired. I wanted to become a better storyteller and enhance my interviewing and writing skills. I wanted to keep learning. That's when I came across an email about a master’s fellowship to attend the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. This fellowship was for Newhouse’s 12-month intense journalism program. The fellowship included a full ride to attend and was awarded to only two students a year. With doubts and hesitation, I applied to the program. It was the only master’s program I applied to, and I couldn’t think of anything worse than not trying.

The moment I received notice that I was a semifinalist for the fellowship and awarded a full-tuition scholarship to attend Newhouse’s journalism program, I knew my life would change for the better. I was hopeful again. Everything was aligning, and I had something to look forward to again. I was on for a new journey, and though my friends and family did not understand the step I was about to take, I packed my bags one last time and moved to Syracuse, where I would finally have my “next.”

My experience as a graduate student at Syracuse University has been incredible. From the start, I have been pushed to levels of performance that I did not know I was capable of. In a short amount of time, I have learned how to edit long- and short-form videos on professional editing programs; I’ve had opportunities to create podcasts and help produce original shows for the campus network. Just recently, I accepted an on-air position as a weather reporter for the campus Spanish newscast. I found a passion for news reporting and video production. As a student of this program, I am able to create and focus on stories that spread awareness on issues that impact minority communities like my own. I can finally say I have aspirations and a dream job. When I walk across that stage and hear my name, I know this year of hard work and dedication won’t be an end, but a new beginning.

COVID-19 Graduation Day Update:

On March 13, 2020, I packed a small duffel bag thinking I was going back home for a week for spring break. When I said goodbye to my friends and professors that Friday afternoon, I did not think that was going to be the last time I saw them on campus again. Little did the class of 2020 know that a week later all courses would be moved online for the remainder of the semester due to the growing COVID-19 crisis.

This past May I did not get to hear my name as I walked across the stage as I had hoped earlier this year. Instead, I attended my school’s virtual graduation and had my photo shown on the TV in my living room. Although it does not sound as exciting as a traditional graduation day, knowing that thousands of lives were lost due to coronavirus made my graduation one of the most blessed moments for me. I was able to graduate sitting next to my mother, father, sister, and dog. I was healthy, my family members were healthy, and for a moment I was able to forget about the sadness the world has been experiencing. My advisors, professors, and graduating class virtually expressed their gratitude for each and every one of us, making the at-home ceremony so personal and thoughtful. Not walking across a stage in May was not what I ever expected, but still having my family by my side when the world feels like it is falling apart was all I could ever ask for.

For women who are in the position I was in two years ago, or who don’t know what the next steps are in their career, my best advice is to keep your options open. Now that COVID-19 has caused hundreds of job freezes and layoffs, it’s hard to know what’s next for me. What I do know is that this won’t last forever, and I am going to take this time to pursue skills that I did not have time to pursue before. What matters most is that you stay motivated and continue looking for passions. Everyone deserves to do something that they love one day. You just have to find it.

Tags: Personal Growth, Navigating the Pandemic, Overcoming Adversity

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Written By

Claribel Rivas

Claribel is a social media manager in the Washington D.C. area who incorporates her cultural influences into her creative content. See Full Bio

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