To the perennial senior-year question, "Which comes first, the job or the city?," Elizabeth Cook and Julie Cedrone answered the latter. History major Cook is sure her responsibilities as editor of The Mount Holyoke News landed her a "fantastic" job at Simon & Schuster. Within a week of moving to New York, she was hired as an online editorial assistant. "I became interested in journalism sophomore year, and loved it, but never thought I'd end up in Manhattan. I wasn't a city person," Cook says. "My job requires flexibility and a wide breadth of knowledge. You have to be quick working on the Internet; my liberal arts education gave me that." Cook admits, "There was a lot of uncertainty about moving to the city without a job. I could not have done it without my Mount Holyoke friends who already had an apartment."
Women's studies major Julie Cedrone had no place to stay, no job, and no friends in San Francisco when she arrived on a one-way ticket. "I wanted to be in a progressive city that was a larger version of Northampton," she says. Temp jobs paid for food and rent. Cedrone credits her background in field research, acquired in a women's studies course, with preparing her for a full-time position as director of qualitative research with a public opinion firm. And her Mount Holyoke wardrobe of overalls, which she wore on temp jobs helped too. The firm's director, she explains, called the temp agency seeking someone who was "casually dressed."
Lynette Rizzo didn't pack her bags until she found a job since she was willing to move wherever the "right job" took her. During last summer's internship at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the dance and English major searched for technical work in theater, a field she had become "hooked on" through MHC dance department productions. By the end of August, Rizzo was hired as production assistant and assistant stage manager with the Atlanta Ballet.
Confidence Is Key
When Michelle Yun, a modern cultural studies major, moved to New York's Chinatown, she knew a fast-paced art world awaited her, and that the galleries where she hoped to show her photographs were mostly run by men. It's a world, she says, where a woman must be assertive, resourceful, and independent to succeed. "Going to a women's college made me less intimidated," she notes. "Any subject I studied at Mount Holyoke taught critical thinking, the whole process of going about things. My education helped me get a lot more done here." Yun now runs a freelance photography business, continues to do her art, and has worked as an exhibition coordinator at a Madison Avenue gallery.
Feeling comfortable with urban living and establishing professional contacts are advantages internships can offer, according to Yun and Barry. "Mount Holyoke stresses trying things out," says Yun. "When I came to New York for arts-related internships and summer jobs, I knew I wanted to go back." Washington was familiar territory for Barry, who spent the year in the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights as a program analyst. "I knocked on doors to see who wanted a free college graduate for a year," she says. "My politics major encouraged me to do internships; I had done three, including one at the White House, before moving here. I had made contacts, which are important in this city, and knew what was needed in terms of customs and attire."
Like many classmates, Barry has a long-distance relationship. Her limited vacation schedule (another big change from college) means that her boyfriend, a student at Stanford, must do all the flying, instead of the two taking turns traveling coast to coast. Jeanne Geantil's choice of graduate schools represented a compromise with her boyfriend, a West Point graduate stationed in Georgia. The pair decided Manhattan, Kansas - home to Kansas State University and nearby army base Fort Riley - was a compatible location. Geantil, a biological sciences major, enrolled in the university's doctoral program in molecular genetics; her friend will be assigned to Fort Riley soon. Meanwhile, Geantil supplements her teaching fellowship by bartending in a local restaurant. Although she didn't know a martini from a stinger, she learned. Confidence bred at a women's college - a strength all ten alumnae said they valued from their Mount Holyoke experience - showed.
A year off from school is an option neuroscience and behavior major Karen Boyle supports. "After writing an honors thesis, I was kind of a vegetable when I left Mount Holyoke," she recalls. Boyle, who works as an assistant scientist for a pharmaceutical firm while applying to medical schools, has never regretted the decision, even though the initial days of living with her mother in Pennsylvania meant adjustments on both their parts. "I'm not doing work in my major field, but with my good Mount Holyoke background I'm able to pull different branches of science together."
After writing and defending a thesis and presenting a paper at a national conference, geology major Amy Harmon experienced burnout. So she considered taking a year off. Nevertheless, she entered the University of New Hampshire's master of science program. But after failing to earn a B in a course she needed, Harmon was dropped from the program. "Oh, boy, I thought, have I messed up ... kicked out of grad school," she recalls, before realizing she had too much on her plate at the time: "adjusting to graduate school, taking courses, teaching, taking calculus, and having an apartment." Harman, who is waiting tables while clarifying her graduate school goals, concludes, "In a weird way, I got the time off I wanted."
Missing the Female Connection
"Mount Holyoke helped me be a strong woman," says Cedrone, "to be outgoing, and to speak out. [I learned] how to get a job, practical things, but not how emotionally difficult it would be to let go of Mount Holyoke. It can feel pretty devastating to be where you can't walk out the door and find one hundred women."
Geantil also misses "the female connection." (Along with trees - "There aren't many in Kansas.") Half the students in her program are women, but few faculty members are female. Although it was not a conscious decision, she says, she is working with a female professor. Geantil adds, "I've met graduate students here who are very smart, but narrow, and that has made me appreciate the breadth of my liberal arts education." And living near a military base means most of her friends and neighbors are men. "I do try to enlighten them," she says. Still, she finds these friendships are not the same as with her MHC friends. "It's like When Harry Met Sally; always some sexual undertone."
Although American studies major Leslie Ito shares an apartment with MHC friends, her return to California has been "a real adjustment. At Mount Holyoke it was me, my studies, and my friends, that's all I was accountable to. Now, I have work, school, family, friends. It can be hard juggling my time with so many things."
Rebecca Frank, a theatre arts major earning an MFA in theatre management at Columbia University, agrees. "All of a sudden life is not completely about studying," she says. "I'm doing an internship with a production company, taking classes, doing homework, and living in the city. I don't think anything can prepare you for the adjustment." Frank does, however, feel fortunate to have a good number of her MHC friends living nearby. "At 9:30, I call them and ask, 'Where's my milk and crackers?'"
Despite the adjustments, Ito adds, "I could not have come to this point without my experiences at Mount Holyoke. Writing a thesis toned up my research skills and prepared me for graduate school. [This fall she enters the Asian American studies master's program at UCLA.] And being away from California gave me a more national perspective."
As the class of 1997 moves into the real world, the Class of 1996 already knows important survival tips. After too many dinners of pasta and takeout, it was clear, they say, that culinary arts were not part of their liberal arts education. Naomi Barry thinks a January Term "senior survival cooking course" might not be a bad idea. Live and learn.
By Lu Stone 60