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Reedy column: Youíre graduating. Now what?

This Saturday, the 2011 graduating class of Catawba College will be saying goodbye to their alma mater as they cross the stage of Keppel Auditorium and receive their degrees. It will be a day marked with celebration and some much needed R&R after four years of dedicated study. The weekend of celebration will inevitably end, and these accomplished young men and woman will again focus their efforts on a question of great importance: What now?
For some, they have little notion about where they will be headed and no pressure to hurry. Others will find themselves floating at the bottom of a pool in scuba gear all summer, much like Dustin Hoffman in ěThe Graduate.î And yet, for the fortunate, this question is already answered.
Senior Joe Manser, a 22 year-old native of Mooresville, is one of the fortunate. For him, blazing the trail for his life after Catawba began two years ago. In an interview, Joe said, ěI have completed internships over the past two summers. One with Dr. Sabo (his chemistry professor) at the FBI facilities in Quantico, Virginia, and last summer at the National Science Foundationís Research Experience for Undergraduates at UNC-Charlotte.î
Joe believes these experiences have been invaluable in bolstering his applications to post-graduate schools, and his estimations are correct. This fall he will be attending Notre Dame. He will be entering the doctorate program to pursue a degree in chemical engineering, specifically in the field of nanotechnology and renewable energies.
When asked where he saw himself in 10 years, Joe said, ěI donít want to be in a laboratory. I am more interested in the business aspect of chemistry, taking the idea from the lab and making it accessible for the general public. I would like to start a company that produces renewable energy technologies.î
I asked Joe if he could attribute his success to any one person at Catawba and he could not. He said, ěDr. Sabo, Dr. Miderski and Dr. Beard have all helped me out a lot.î It was the whole ěit takes a village to raise a childî idea. Joe said his adviser, Dr. Beard, was able to give him guidance in his academic studies, and Dr. Sabo and Dr. Miderski were able to help him get the summer internships that he needed.
Joe is excited about his future and was happy to put the time in to achieve it. But with all of his undergraduate studies behind him, he looks forward to relaxing. ěI havenít spent a summer in Mooresville in over two years, and I look forward to spending some time on the lake.î
Much like Joe, Kendra Joyner of Rock Springs, Wyo., has her plans set in stone. Introduced to Catawba through the United Church of Christ website, Joyner, a religion and philosophy major, will be attending Yale Divinity School this fall to become a UCC minister like her father.
Originally, Kendra sought a career in advocacy, hoping to serve in rural communities she feels are often overlooked. However, her time in the Lilly program at Catawba persuaded her to pursue a life with the church. ěI felt like I could be a pastor and also serve in the community. Also, the church has the ability to penetrate deeper into a community and, in a sense, is a small community itself.î
In preparation for life in the church, Kendra has worked, through the Lilly program, with the local First United Church of Christ to get a feel for what to expect as a minister. She also sought the guidance of Dr. Kenneth Clapp, Catawba College chaplain and ordained UCC minister who also received his masters in divinity from Yale.
Beaming with energy this charismatic young woman has all of the confidence every parent would hope their child possesses. ěI chose Catawba because I really wanted a school that embodied my values,î Joyner said.
Kendra, like Joe, also credits the Catawba College community for her success. ěCatawba has given me all of the most valuable assets I need,î she said, ěespecially self-confidence and the ability to think abstractly.î She went on to say, ěThe confidence I have obtained during my time at Catawba gives me peace of mind, knowing that because I am capable, no bump in the road will ever last.î
Joyner also reaffirms the ěit takes a villageî sentiment expressed by Manser. ěDr. Starr of the English department proofread my thesis, Dr. Sabo of the chemistry department helped me plan and organize a mission trip I ran, and I go for coffee and small talk with Dr. Brownlow of the psychology department.î Each member of the faculty took an interest in Joyner and her future regardless of their discipline because it is the mission of Catawba, and Joyner made sure not to understate this advantage.
While Kendra and Joe have neatly charted the course concerning their immediate future, not every student graduating Saturday has. Alex Walpole, the son of an Army major, studied communications at Catawba and is in this very position. Alex is the embodiment of charisma and charm, certain of his ability to be successful. However, he was somewhat vague when discussing his future plans.
ěI want to do something in mass communications. I would love to be the face for some corporation,î he admits, ěI love public speaking. It is something I would love to do.î Alex also says he has a passion for acting, a dream he does not intend on giving up.
And while he may not know exactly what career path he will choose, he is certain that he wants to attend graduate school. ěI have applied to five graduate programs for mass communications and hope to hear back by the end of the summer. I would really like to go to UNC-Greensboro or the University of Kansas.î
Unlike Manser and Joyner, Alex feels differently about Catawbaís ability to prepare students for the real world. Alex regrets not applying earlier and feels that it may cause him to begin his post-graduate education later than expected. Alex feels he, as well as other Catawba grads, were generally uncertain about the process of getting into graduate school.
ěWhen we come into school we take a class to help us adapt to college life. I think it would help to have an exit course that we take before we leave school that informs us about how to apply to graduate school, timelines for applications, and how to get loans.î
Joe, Kendra, and Alex all admit that they are nervous about their futures. Manser admits that he is not a ěsteel wallî and that at any point he can be dropped by the doctorate program at Notre Dame. However, he does not believe this to be a real possibility due to his strong academic record. Joyner shares this feeling, saying, ěnew things always bring a level of anxiety, but I canít let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.î While Alex, who is struggling to come to grips with life after college, admits, ěI have a lot of fear; itís the great unknown. I donít know really what to expect,î a feeling that is common in periods of transition or to the young professional.
One thing is certain in this new chapter of their lives ó that whether or not they are absolutely sure as to what is coming next, they are all very confident in their ability to succeed. And confidence is perhaps the most valuable asset a graduating senior can possess. In the midst of uncertainty one thing is for sure ó they all look forward to a little time off.

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