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Maryville College Works: A Senior Guide To Avoiding Alligators

Congratulations to the class of 2018, the first-ever class to graduate under Maryville College Works!

By now, you should have all of those pesky checks completed. The checklist is a helpful way to track your graduation requirements in Maryville College Works, and may even be an irritating reminder of what’s left to do while you’re juggling the 12,000 other things that are required of you during your senior year.

Of course, the checklist is not an end in itself. The real importance of Maryville College Works lies in the way that it connects your college years to your time after college. Our one-liner about Maryville College Works is that it is a program that “…integrates career preparation for today’s job market with a time-tested, small-college liberal arts education.” This integration is the bridge that’s on our logo: it helps you cross the alligator-filled canyon between college and career. (The Communications office continues to reject my helpful design suggestions to add pictures of salivating alligators below the bridge.)

I know from experience how hard the next few years can be. My own particular crocodilian-filled chasm was a year of working as a temp following my graduation from a similar (but not as awesome) small liberal arts college. I knew my way around computers, and writing my senior thesis taught me to type quickly enough so that I could find office work. But I did not yet have the skills to pay the bills. I landed many okay-paying short-term office jobs that year, but those opportunities were infrequent, so I also worked many lower-paying gigs in mailrooms, in warehouses, and even working on an assembly line in a factory.

I ultimately snuck past most of the ravenous reptiles with only a few scars, and I learned a great deal in the process. Still, I wish I had gotten better professional guidance before descending into that ravine. Knowing how to reflect on yourself as a professional, how to start and refine your resume, how to research and plan your career, how to network professionally, how to practice for an interview, how to build a professional pitch—all of these career skills would have made that year much, much less painful. I also wish that I had practiced articulating the advantages of my liberal arts college background with potential employers. I already knew after graduation that liberal arts colleges are special places, but knowing how to talk about my own profound and life-changing college experience in the context of the broader world of work was not yet something I knew how to do.

 

Better still, I wish I had engaged in some kind of practical experience that had been significant enough to put on my resume and to jump-start my career. These kinds of experiences would have helped me get a much steadier, better paying, more fulfilling work.

You are now standing at one edge of this vertiginous, predator-filled gorge with exactly these kinds of high quality, bridge-crossing, gator-evasion devices fitted into your toolbelt. I know for a fact that you are more ready than I ever was—and better prepared for crossing over this gully than are the vast majority of college students. Many of you are now on your way to your first dream job or to the graduate program of your choice. Many of you have a better sense of where you are going. All of you are better equipped for the next phase than you would have been without this program.

As you take those first steps across the bridge, whether by sprinting ahead or by tentatively testing the structure’s tensile strength with your big toe, I want to leave you with three final pieces of advice:

 

  1. Keep learning. Maryville College Works is a research project for your life. Even though your Tartan checklist is complete, you are not done. Use the skills you have gained at MC to continue to learn about your chosen career, and also about the world beyond. An unpredictable economy dominated by a rapidly changing technological landscape means that today’s jobs may be filled by tomorrow’s robots. That situation means that knowing isolated facts is often less important than knowing how to learn—what we liberal arts professors call lifelong learning.
  2. Live the liberal arts. Continue to ask open-ended questions—ones to which you do not know the answers ahead of time. Many, many people are trying to tell you how to think in order to acquire some advantage over you. They want you to accept their ideas and prejudices without question. The process of questioning those fundamental assumptions is as important in the workplace as it is anywhere else.
  3. Know that work-related questions are complex. By this point in your college career, you already understand that the world is a complicated place. This fact is equally true of the world of work. What seems like a great job one day may change the next. Entire industries rise and fall in relatively short spans. A liberal arts education is the best solution to these troubling times. Broad knowledge to investigate, decode, explain and put events into context is what it’s all about. And the world of work is about more than just knowing how to do your job; it can also be about choosing the kind of work that is best for you. Ethics and quality of life questions are as important as the size of your paychecks. You must be able to bring your conscience to work with you, no matter where you end up.

Congratulations again, and please let us know how we can help you, either now or in the years to come. We look forward to hearing from you, safe and sound, from the other side.

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