GW alumni, many of whom graduated during the 2008-09 financial crisis, offer advice for students graduating during tough times.
Post-graduation plans for George Washington University students in the class of 2020 have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
As students enter an uncertain future, GW alumni in a variety of fields, many of whom graduated into their own uncertain circumstances, offer some advice for GW students on resilience, dreaming big and finding space in their lives for hope:
“I graduated during the economic crisis in 2009, and the dream job I was promised after graduation fell through. The job market was tough. I was doing internships at small start-ups—anything I could get. In my free time, I personalized leather jackets as a hobby. The jackets became really popular, and what did I have to lose? So, I launched my own company. And started a career journey that is beyond my wildest dreams. Looking back today, if everything had gone according to plan, and if I had gotten an amazing job at a big company, I would have never taken the risk. Sometimes, the best creativity can come out of not having anything to lose.”
“Survive, then thrive. It may seem like you are in pure survival mode now, but you will be stronger and more resilient for this experience. (Trust me, I graduated law school right before the Great Recession—I can relate!) You will unlock levels of perseverance and determination you never knew you had, which will enable you to thrive in the near future."
“Resilience is needed in the modern economy. Companies look for many attributes in their staff, but are unable to effectively assess resilience. It’s something that manifests itself in the face of adversity. By virtue of the strange times we find ourselves in, we find ourselves needing resilience—resilience to handle the ambiguity that each [day] brings, resilience to weather the changes taking place globally, resilience to adjust our own behavior to adapt to a new normal. I encourage the class of 2020 to remain resilient in the face of this adversity. Such an attribute will stand them in good stead for the future.”
“The world has changed, but that doesn’t mean your aspirations and career plans are lost. It means you need to—as we all must—be nimble, be innovative and be thoughtful. With patience and compassion, be prepared to adjust your next steps, but make sure you don’t stop stepping. Work hard and purposefully to be a part of our collective recovery and growth.”
“The global events of recent months—the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic turndown, and the personal and health effects—make clear the intense interdependence of our society. We see that because people have lost their jobs, some cannot pay rent, landlords cannot make their mortgage payments, banks run into regulatory problems, which eventually endanger the financial system. Similar chains of interdependence exist in every industry. You will start your careers as this emergency winds down. When you do, it is important to realize that you are part of an interdependent society. It requires a certain humility to see how we are linked to other people up and down the employment system. I hope in your generation we see less ‘go-it-alone’ hubris and more respect for each other, fewer pat answers and more wise understandings of our interdependence.”
“Every generation goes through at least one collective crisis; yours is now clearly defined. With every disruption comes opportunities to learn and grow. What we are experiencing now is extraordinary and will trigger social, political and economic changes across the globe. You are in a position to help make and shape those changes. Cultivate resilience and optimism. These skills were always important—now they are essential. Use the time we have now to think about where you want to be five and 10 years from now. Learn and reflect as you move on, and let these challenges make you wiser and stronger.”
"Dear Class of 2020:
The resiliency, tenacity and optimism that drove you to choose GW and achieve the goal of graduating from GW are the same exact ingredients that will serve you well as you come out of school into ‘CovidWorld.’ While you will hear many voices of doom and gloom, don’t get sucked into that dark, swirling vortex. Shut off the 24-hour news cycle, don’t allow the ‘Twitterverse’ to become your universe. There are opportunities. After a forest fire, growth returns. Every. Single. Time.
This is your time. You didn’t choose it, but it is yours regardless. Embrace it, make it your own. Find a need and fill it. Pivot from the vision you had 90 days ago and create a new vision. Invest your energy into what is possible. Don’t allow your energy to dissipate into the morass of the impossible, of visions destroyed and opportunities evaporated.
Believe in yourself. Create a team, set a goal. Start a company. Pitch your ideas. Network to the companies thriving in the ‘CovidWorld’ economy. Come up with ways to compete against those companies. Network to the companies who could compete against those companies, and pitch yourself and your value to help the pivot.
Class of 2020, you have already been making the world a better place. Your commitment to conscious capitalism is clear through so many of your actions and impacts during your undergrad years. Now, it is time to go out there and be part of this next wave of people ready to re-imagine our world and our society during ‘CovidWorld,’ and most importantly, in a post-vaccine world. It is your world, your planet, your community—don’t let anyone or anything stop you from remaking it to align with your vision.”
“You are graduating at a unique time in history, which will undoubtedly be filled with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. To maximize your opportunities, be bold and don’t be afraid to explore outside your immediate interests. Use this public health crisis as a shared experience to make stronger connections within your network. As you start your career, remember that your introduction into the workforce is only the beginning. Having a strong work ethic is key to any position, and building relationships will benefit you for your entire career. You will have many opportunities in the years to come, and who knows where your first job will take you. Just enjoy the ride!”
“I have three pieces of advice for the class of 2020:
1. Stay positive. It’s tough to be optimistic when everything seems to be falling apart. However, everything has a cycle, so remain positive that there is an end in sight. If you’re negative, you will never find success in anything you do.
2. Be open-minded. Consider every possibility on the table, even if it’s outside your area of study. Sometimes you won’t figure out what you love until you try it.
3. It’s OK to be unsure about the path ahead. When challenges come up, pivot, and put your best foot forward.”
“You are only as strong as those you surround yourself with. Find work with people you enjoy and who push you to do better, achieve more. Some of my best career decisions have centered on who I was working with as much as what I was working on. In this challenging time, I miss dropping by people’s offices for a chat and, with this distance, see how important those small interactions are. Nourish your professional relationships as you do your friendships. You’ll find that success comes more easily, and that it's more fun along the way.”
“Hold on to your recently formed educational habits and make learning part of your daily life. Always trust your intuition and confidently explore your passions. Your values will change over time, and I urge you to pursue what drives you today rather than planning for what you think will drive you tomorrow. And do not fear getting lost along the way, the road to discovery will prove rewarding. The most meaningful experiences in both my professional and personal life came from paths I never knew existed on graduation day.”
"The experiences you have had are not just academic, but life lessons. Consider B.I.G. Build on what you have. Incorporate all you have done. Then, expect to Gain more from past experiences and from what is yet to come."
“Make no mistake, the next couple of years will be tough. But that doesn't mean you should stop charging toward the life you want. Set goals. Think outside the box. Do things that don't scale. Get experience any way you can. Don't take no for an answer. Others see closed doors—be somebody who climbs through open windows. It may not be exactly how you planned it, and it may not happen as quickly as you wanted it, but don't let this virus stop you. This is your one and only life, and remember, fortune favors the bold.”
“Live the dream. I graduated from GW at the height of the last recession. For all graduates of 2020, the next couple years will test you in ways that few in your generation will be able to appreciate. You will end up taking jobs you did not train for and delaying opportunities that you had your heart set on, but just like 12 years ago, this too shall pass. The classes you have taken and the internships you have completed will come in handy. Have faith that GW has indeed prepared you for the new world that we are all entering, today.”
“In these strange times, take time to validate your feelings of disappointment, anger and sadness, and then rise up and move forward. You will discover that you are stronger than you know, and you will withstand this storm. Always be kind and humble and persevere. Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s; validate yourself and make the choices that are true to you. Class of 2020—you got this. I can’t wait to see what you do next.”
“This pandemic is a cruel illustration that life will never go exactly as planned, that we are not totally in control of our own futures. However, through the inevitable twists and turns, you will learn, grow and find opportunity you never expected. Learn to adapt and adjust because resiliency is the most important skill for future happiness. Your path won't be what you expect, your choices for after graduation may not be what you hoped, but it will end up being exactly what you make of it. Be brave, be kind and just take it one step at a time.”