The nearly 1,300 seniors graduating at the University’s 167th commencement ceremony next Tuesday will say goodbye to the four years that helped them find jobs, discover their interests and further their educations.

But with an unemployment rate that boasts a dismal 13.2 percent for 20-to-24-year-olds, according to the Labor Department’s April job report, some Emory graduates are putting work on hold to chase other dreams.

College senior Stephen Ratner entered Emory in 2008 with the idea of making a beeline straight to law school after graduation. Now, he realizes, it’s as though “the finish line has moved a bit.”

With law school on hold, Ratner says he plans to attend the London School of Economics and revisit the idea of law school in the next three years.

His time at Emory, he says, helped him realize that there’s more than one pathway to success.

“It’s about forging strong connections with the people around you,” Ratner says. “Especially through talking to people and getting the strong advice that helps you meander your way through college.”

Other students, such as College senior Alleyne Ross, are following dreams that will take them overseas. Ross, who will be working in Lisbon and then on the Alenpejo Coast of Portugal as an au pair, or nanny, says she was nervous about the big change because she will be traveling alone.

“I don’t think it’s a newfound independence because I’ve always been independent, but I’ve always had something to fall back on,” she says.

With graduation so close, the weight of the past couple of years seems “surreal,” she says.
“There’s so much that’s leading to this point that when it’s finally here, you can’t really believe it,” Ross says.

For other students such as College senior Carolyn Tong, she couldn’t be more excited for graduation.

Tong, who also attended the Nell Hodgson School of Nursing, will be moving to Los Angeles to be with her boyfriend of nearly four years and work with inner city populations.
After working at Gateway Homeless Center during her community health rotation at the nursing school, Tong says she discovered her “calling in life.”

“I worked with men in recovery, mostly from cocaine and alcohol addictions, and I got the chance to hear their stories, and I loved the experience,” she recalls. “It helped me find a place of comfort and a higher calling.”

Tong isn’t the only student who found her calling far from Atlanta. College Senior Simran Khosla will be attending graduate school for journalism at New York University’s Studio 20 program to work on creating new multimedia platforms such as different ways to broadcast information through video and the Internet.

“I’m excited about getting into what I want and working at school instead of doing school work,” she says. “Plus, I don’t have to take PEs.”

One thing she will miss about Atlanta, however, is the weather.

“I’m not looking forward to the cold,” she says. “But it’s supposedly the city of the world and not that I don’t love Atlanta, but I’ll take the Empire State building over the Coke museum.”

Not all students are globe-trotting or crossing the country to achieve their goals. College Senior Bethaney Herrington found her calling through community service projects with her church. Herrington recalled the summer of 2009 when she worked at a day camp on the west side of Chicago as the time at which she realized “what it looks like to be an agent of change in communities that are often forgotten.”

With a major in educational studies and a minor in community building and social change, Herrington says she has yet to figure out whether graduate school is her path or whether she should work as a teacher.

Still, Herrington’s work with fellowship programs through Emory’s connections helped her pinpoint her interest in community building, she said.

“Everything I feel like I’ve wanted to do, I’ve done,” Herrington says. “I’m not moving across the country or anything like that, but I’m feeling great. It’s hard to see my friends leaving, but I guess that’s a normal part of it.”

While soon-to-be graduates may be going in different directions, it seems that most had two things in common: a bucket list and a long-standing affection for the people who shaped their Emory experiences.

“You never really know how you want it to be when you graduate, but I know that right now, this is exactly how I want to feel,” College senior Blake Kavanaugh says. “Surrounded by your best friends and the key idea to me is that even though I don’t really believe it’s the best four years of your life, [college] is still an amazing experience.”

With graduation around the corner, Kavanaugh said he’s wasting no time to get through his senior year bucket list which includes a successful kayaking excursion on Lullwater at midnight, eating Antico pizza and camping out on the Quad.

But the most important experience at Emory, Kavanaugh notes, was getting to know the people at Emory around him.

“My parents always told me that these would be the new best friends for the rest of my life,” he says. “I was home-schooled from third grade until college, and so the biggest thing I undervalued was just how much people can invest and care about each other even in the most different of settings.”

Khosla also says that the people she knew helped create who she became.
“When I first came here, I was pre-business,” she remembers with a laugh. “I thought I was going to go into marketing, which is hysterical now. I had a completely different life plan, and this place really made me who I am.”

Although she doesn’t exactly have a bucket list, Khosla says that if she ever gets enough money, she wants to donate a bench at Emory that she can paint without getting in trouble for vandalizing property – something that occurred during her last attempt to paint a bench outside of the Dobbs University Center (DUC).

“I owe [Emory] everything,” she says.

Herrington has a different idea for an item on her senior bucket list, one that’s distinctly noisy.

“I wanted to greatly disturb the Matheson Reading Room,” she says. “I’m always hearing of other people doing it, and I really want to.”

With the year reaching its close, some students are finding that the way to savor college is to replay the past experiences.

“Go out to dinner with your freshman hall; tie up loose ends,” Kavanaugh says. “It’s that time where you’re thinking that you now have the education and so now you’ve hit the point where it’s about enjoying everything and getting out there.”

– By Roshani Chokshi.