I initially applied for a spring break externship because the AYA propaganda appealed to my post-graduation anxieties. Where the brochure promised “an interesting and valuable career-oriented experience,” I saw a chance to charm prospective employers and gussy up my resume with something besides high school speech team accolades.
My 10 days spent working at the Dallas Morning News were much more than a chance to schmooze with editors and collect small skyscrapers of business cards on my desk. The externship helped explain that void between tossing your cap at graduation and tottering back to your 50th reunion to compare angina symptoms. It made everyone’s favorite ominous cliche — the “real world” — a lot less intimidating.
Tagging along with my assigned mentor, Josh ’97, was reassuring. Suddenly, it seemed that making that leap from waiting in line for Pan Geos and writing irrelevant essays on Milton to having your own refrigerator and being a productive member of the work force might be feasible, after all.
You have to understand that Josh is really old. He’s 26. He even has a beard.
Josh attended Yale during the Clinton administration, smack in the middle of the Roaring Nineties. When he was here, Yale had been coeducational for less than three decades. York Square Cinema screened new releases like “Beverly Hills Ninja” and “Jingle All the Way.” There was no Gourmet Heaven — Josh and his friends had to brew their own $7 fruit-flavored energy drinks in rusty stills out in the back of the Calhoun courtyard.
Yet the gap between his life and our own isn’t as enormous as you might expect. I stayed with Josh for 10 whole days, and I can testify that — just like any undergrad — he wastes startling quantities of time each night instant-messaging and fiddling with his mp3s. I found it comforting that graduating from college does not mean you have to replace anonymous online chatting with real social interaction.
That raised another question I had: how do you make friends when there are no intramural basketball games or residential college dining halls to flush you from your burrow? What if there’s no Yale Club nearby where you can go to reminisce while tipsy old men stumble through Whiffenpoof classics?
What are you supposed to do, loiter in Barnes & Noble and make witty, well-read quips until someone invites you to coffee?
More importantly, how do you get any romantic satisfaction after college? When I think back on how I’ve met past flames — college screws, Yale summer programs — I can’t imagine what I’ll do without the aid of match-making Mother Yale.
But Josh has done it all.
He has formed pick-up football leagues with the guys in his office. He has dated a few of his female co-workers, with no lasting repercussions. He gets set up on dates with friends of friends. He has parties to go to on Friday nights.
He is proof that you can make the transition from college to cubicle and still have things to do on weekends besides “Civilization III.”
I was also glad to see that living by yourself does not mean you necessarily need to learn how to cook or wash a dish.
Josh subsists entirely on burritos prepared by a greasy fast-food joint five blocks away. These burritos are the size of Nalgene water bottles and encase enough ambiguous gray shredded meat to satiate him for days at a time. Consequently, his fridge contains only a case of Samuel Adams and a carton of yogurt that expired sometime around Halloween.
I assume he bought the yogurt to impress girls.
Of course, there were a few things about Josh and his apartment that I found alien to Yale life. His shower was completely free of tumbleweed-sized hairballs and breast self-examination placards. There was not one unexplained stain on his entire couch. His copies of Maxim were stacked neatly on the coffee table, rather than lying dog-eared on the floor with the “Girls of Cosmo Surrender!” centerfold ripped out.
And contrary to my experience with the Yale men around here, I don’t think he belched or made one Simpsons reference during my entire stay.
Hanging out with an alum put my Yale education in perspective. Josh is good at what he does — he’s an ace newspaper reporter who’s covered stories around the world. He loves his work. He’s exactly where I want to be in five years.
All this has very little to do with his concrete achievements at Yale. Josh had fun in New Haven, but he also tanked his senior year and wrote his senior essay the night before graduation. He hasn’t gotten where he is today because of a GPA or recommendation letters from pompous, silver-haired professors — he’s there because of the kind of person he is. In the last analysis, that lesson was the real value of this externship.
If you’re apprehensive nonetheless, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little piece of Yale along with you. Josh still has a plate smuggled from the Calhoun dining hall in his kitchen cabinet. Sometimes, if he closes his eyes, those microwaved burrito leftovers taste just like baked ziti.
Molly Worthen is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.