On a table next to a laptop and a company-issued, personalized mug in Samantha Tonini ‘07’s sparsely furnished Manhattan apartment is a thick envelope with a Sallie Mae return address. Scrawled in black ink on Tonini’s first student loan bill is a loving post-it note from her father: “Reality Bites.”
“This is exhibit A,” Tonini said, tossing the envelope across the table with a laugh. And it’s not the last reminder of the new lifestyle she’s embraced since graduation. After a busy first few months filled with landing a demanding job at a New York hedge fund, moving into a new apartment and battling a fair amount of Yale nostalgia, Tonini — and other grads like her — are continually finding that the post-grad experience in the Big Apple has its ups and downs.
“It’s life,” Tonini said. “It’s really easy to make that sound like, ‘Oh my god, I have so many bills to pay,’ but if you use the lights, you have to pay for the lights.”
New York has long been the natural post-graduation stomping ground for generations of Yalies looking to use the power of an Ivy League degree to nab coveted big-city jobs, nourish a budding acting career on Broadway or simply be “young and living in New York,” as Tonini puts it. But does the reality of living in The City — with sky-high rents, a competitive job market and a perpetuated Yale Bubble — merit all the hype?
‘Next Stop, Next Step’
There is no doubt New York has a persistent, sometimes irresistible appeal for people all over the world, but it exists especially for recent Yale graduates. One obvious reason is proximity — most students have taken a ride down to New York at some point during their four years in New Haven and are already familiar with parts of the city. For some, like Evan Joiner ’07 — an actor who spent his summer putting together and performing in a two-man show he wrote with classmate Kobi Libii ’07 — Yale itself is reminiscent of the urban environment of New York City.
“It just sort of makes sense to hop on down the Metro North,” Joiner said. “It’s like the next stop, it’s the next step, and being in New Haven is not all that unlike being in New York.”
Others couldn’t imagine doing their jobs anywhere else. Maria Rizzolo ’07, who works in marketing at an architecture firm, said New York was always the focus of her job search.
“This is one of the best places to be if you’re studying architecture,” Rizzolo said. “You’ve got your best chance of getting a job here, and trying to get up to Boston and down to D.C. or to Chicago is just so much harder than Metro North.”
The long-standing popularity of the city with newly minted alums also means that anyone considering living there will likely find themselves with a variety of former classmates — and potential roommates — to choose from when deciding what their new social scene will be like outside a residential college. Tonini is living with fellow class of 2007 Saybrugians Brian Rose and Wendy He, a hedge fund investor relations associate and investment banker, respectively. Their lower East Side apartment in the private development of Stuyvesant Town — with a quieter atmosphere, tall brown brick buildings and inner courtyards filled with fountains and trees — is not unlike a college atmosphere.
“It’s like having Old Campus outside, and you don’t see that anywhere but [Stuyvesant Town] and Central Park,” Rose said.
And Tonini, Rose and He are not the only Yale graduates to have settled into the development in the last few months. By Tonini’s estimate, at least 10 of their classmates currently live in the 80-acre development.
The idea of recreating the Yale experience — complete with better food, ruder drivers and more structured work schedules — is common throughout the post-Yale New York experience and may be another draw for those unwilling to say goodbye to most of their friends within the first year.
For Micah Landau ’07, a New York City native who moved back to the city after spending his post-graduation summer in New Haven, the main drawback of living on the west coast for a Yale alum would be the inaccessibility of the alma mater.
“Most kids are going to stay on the east coast … at least for awhile,” Landau said. “If you go out that far [to the west coast] … that basically means that you have to say goodbye to a lot of friends, and people aren’t really ready to do that. They can’t just go up to Yale for a weekend.”
Tony Mozzi ’07, a political science major working as a paralegal at Sidley Austin and currently completing his law school applications, agreed that New York provides a re-simulated version of Yale for those not ready to move on.
“It feels like I never really left,” he said. “The people I feel bad for are my friends who moved very far away. I still see all my friends around here. I don’t want to say New York is like a comfort zone when you graduate, but it kind of is. It’s sort of a very gradual out because it’s all the same people.”
Moving to New York to be near friends also applies to those who eschew investment banking and law jobs to go the more creative route. The difference between the two experiences is that Yalies looking to go into theater and performance depend on their network of Yale friends and connections, not just to have someone to hang out with, but to have someone to create with.
For Jocelyn Ranne ’07 — who is launching a Web sitcom this week called “Inconvenient Molly” with friends Eli Clark ’07, Justin Noble ’07 and Jeremy Robbins ’06 — the idea of working with friends was enough to keep her in New York despite her desire to move elsewhere.
“I really wanted to move to California, but they all came here,” Ranne said. “And I think that when you do something that’s creative like this, you need to have a community. I feel like Yale gave me connections and introduced me to people that I creatively click with so well … these people are the best thing I got out of Yale.”
Aside from like-minded friends and an enviable network of connections, New York also offers an unbeatable buffet of events, cultural activities and interesting people reminiscent of an always-lively college campus. But the hard truth about trying to make it in New York is that practical concerns often get in the way of the idealized big city experience many graduates expect.
Not Enough New York Minutes
When their roommate’s friends dropped by during a trip to the city earlier this summer, Rose and Tonini sat them down and gave them the rundown on which cultural sites to hit up.
“[We] told them, ‘You should do this and do this and go to Central Park and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and go to SoHo and all these different things, go to the Met’ — but we’ve only done about half of them,” Rose said while Tonini nodded in agreement.
Working long hours to earn the much sought-after prize in investment banking and hedge fund jobs — the bonus given on top of a base salary, determined by performance — leaves little time to enjoy the “smorgasbord” of culture that New York offers, Tonini said.
“Because you’re at work from eight [in the morning] to six or seven at night, if you’re not really paying attention, all five days of the week are like that, and it’s gone in a blink of an eye and you start all over again,” she said. “By the end of the week you’re just really tired. So it panders to laziness as much as it panders to hard work.”
And the same probl
em affects those in the non-finance sector as well. Amanda Rich ’07, a legal assistant at Shearman and Sterling who is looking to apply to night law school in the near future, said self-sufficiency can be exhausting.
“Sometimes the bill-paying is a little stressful because you don’t know if you’re going to have enough in your next paycheck to pay for everything,” Rich said. “There are moments when you just want to sleep because you’re so tired and burnt out from work.”
And though Rich said her first few months in the city were spent “walking around aimlessly,” she eventually established an active social life within New York by turning to one of her extracurriculars from Yale — women’s crew.
“Since I reached out to crew I’ve felt so much better,” she said. “I can keep doing that even though I’ve graduated … and having so many resources so close … I kind of feel like a lot of the world’s at my fingertips. I feel like there’s a lot going for me right now, which is really comforting.”
Rich’s experience of encountering a mammoth and intimidating city but then cutting it down to size may speak to a more subconscious aspect of New York that draws so many Yalies — the sense of a challenge to be overcome. After mastering academia, perhaps Yale graduates turn to New York as a “test,” as Rizzolo put it.
“New York tests me, and in a good way, because I grew up in the countryside,” she said. “It always kind of intimidated me, but it has some amazing opportunities.”
To graduates looking for a challenge, apartment hunting in the less-than-friendly New York real estate market will certainly provide one, although Tonini said Yale graduates may also have a sense of well-founded invincibility.
“You go into the interview, and you say, ‘I’m a Yale student, I can do anything because I’ve been doing everything,’ and they take you up on it,” Tonini said. “When you get there you realize ‘Wow, they took me up on it, and I have to deliver.”
But at the end of the day, graduates in New York say they’ve taken a bigger bite out of the Big Apple than reality has taken out of them. While the honeymoon may be over, Yalies say they’ve taken advantage of what New York has to offer and really made the city their own, and their enthusiasm for their newfound home easily rubs off on younger Elis. Most grads recommend that those considering post-graduate life in New York put aside concerns and fears about the city and just “go for it,” as Tonini put it.
But more important than the job opportunities and proximity to Yale, alums say New York has a unique sense of self that many are simply excited to be a part of.
“It’s just a real place,” Joiner said, sitting a few blocks from Times Square munching on peanut M&M’s he bought from a homeless man. “It’s a place that’s full of energy and life and full of people. It’s also very much a city that is very proud of itself – that goes for I-bankers and bus drivers. They’re New Yorkers, and that means something.”
Perhaps that kind of personal meaning combined with inhabiting a legendary locale is worth the stress of exorbitant living costs and shoebox apartments. After all, for those used to four years of a similar atmosphere — the stress of performing in Yale’s world of top-notch academics and extracurriculars — New York feels like the natural next step. In many ways, Joiner’s advice for aspiring actors is just as valuable for those coming to New York — or even to Yale — for the first time: “There are a lot of ways to be here and a lot of things to do. Just throw yourself into everything you possibly can.”