Graduating Senior Rachel Miller asks four classmates the dreaded question.
Headed for: Erie, Pennsylvania
Operations Management Leader, General Electric
These days, ask any college senior what they're doing after graduation and you'll get a heavy sigh, or a list of possible locations, or a dirty look. Rarely, you'll come across someone like engineering major Marice Uy of Rochester, New York.
Ask Uy what she'll be doing this coming fall and she can tell you precisely what and at precisely what times; she can even tell you some of what she'll be wearing: reinforced steel–toed work boots.
That's right—steel–toed boots, protective goggles and earplugs. Come September, Uy will move to Erie, Pennsylvania, to start work for General Electric on part of a two–year rotational program that offers training in GE's business leadership. "I'm gonna wake up and get my hands nice and greasy," says Uy, beaming while we talk this spring during her shift at the reference desk in Neilson Library. At GE she'll be in the thick of it, right on the shop floor, working on real projects and hobnobbing with professional engineers. She'll be waking up at 6:30 a.m. and working until 3 p.m., sleeping, and repeating. "And maybe I'll stay up to watch Jeopardy at 7:30," she says, laughing.
Is she anxious? No, not really. Uy worked in Erie last summer doing an internship with GE that turned into her current position, so she knows the city. That certainly makes things easier. To cushion the transition, she’s heading home to Rochester to work in a bakery or a florist shop for the summer months. "You can't be afraid to take risks. And you can't be too picky. If I were scared, or too picky, I would never have gone to Erie in the first place, and I wouldn't have this great opportunity."
Bring on the boots.
Headed for: Oakland, California
Intern, Frameline Production Company
Mercedes Davis of Humble, Texas, is tall and dresses with tight street style. She has a quick, vicious wit. But to describe Davis in a single sentence is to do her a disservice—she's impossible to encapsulate. Davis is constantly contesting, engaging and questioning the world, both in her daily interactions and through the artwork she has produced as a studio art major.
In the year–end exhibition for her visual arts seminar, Davis, with a double major in sociology and studio art (digital media), showed photos of herself embodying wildly disparate characters—a visual testament to her creativity and multiplicity. Outside her coursework, Davis directed a documentary called "My Word," which comprises interviews with Smith students who answer questions about their college experience. She interviewed everyone from the student government vice president to various house leaders across campus, to her next–door neighbor. Davis intended the documentary to be both real and revealing, and says, "I'm making it to explore my own and others' experiences at Smith and to leave my mark. Leaving a mark is very important to me."
So how did Davis plan to leave her mark on the world following graduation? After a sigh she exclaims, "That's one of the scariest questions I've ever heard in my life!" For a while she thought advertising in New York would be appealing, but she has since decided on an internship with Frameline, a production company in Oakland. Once she gets there and has a chance to decompress, the serious job search will begin. "For now," Davis says, "I'm just focusing on graduating."
Headed to: Mainz, Germany
Flight attendant, Lufthansa
Her father is a magician and her mother is a musician. Of course graduates are pressured to define themselves apart from their parents, but in this case, the parallels are just too tempting: throughout her time at Smith Catherine Hatch of Humble, Texas (a hometown coincidence she shares with Mercedes Davis), has been busy composing a romantic symphony and, simultaneously, pulling rabbits from hats.
The first rabbit is her self–designed major, European cultural studies. Seeking a counterpart to the American studies major, Hatch decided to combine the classes that interested her most. Then she took some time off from Smith to study in Paris, came back and left again to spend her junior year in Geneva. The following summer Hatch obtained a grant to travel throughout Switzerland and Germany doing research for a paper on chocolate. It certainly sounds magical, doesn't it?
Back at Smith for her senior year, Hatch served as head resident of the French–speaking Dawes House and wrote a research paper about coffee—which, unlike chocolate, she refuses to consume. Her post–graduation plans are decidedly international: she'll head to Mainz, Germany, in June and then to Dubai.
Why all this travel? It turns out there's more to it than perfecting her language skills: cue the romantic symphony. "Most decisions in my life have been motivated by love," explains Hatch. "Can I say that?" Her boyfriend is finishing school in Mainz, and her plans to travel between Europe and the States are the impetus for applying for a job as a flight attendant with Lufthansa.
Some are motivated by security, by money, by glamour, by the pure enjoyment of learning. So can Hatch admit she's motivated by love? Of course she can.
Headed for: Tokyo, Japan
Japan–America Student Conference
Put Smith's course catalog in a blender, add some afternoons spent tutoring in Springfield, Massachusetts, a pinch of Student Government Association and then stir in some Fujianese (southern Chinese dialect). Mix everything at high–speed and you have some of what makes up Xiao Min Zhao of Changle, Fujian, China.
In the space of half an hour, Zhao discusses yoga, her potential summer internships with Senator Charles Schumer (D–NY) and congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D–NY), the Algerian civil war, tutoring children in an afterschool program, and the work of Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann, the subject of Zhao's German seminar. She also touched on the Japan–America Student Conference taking place in late July, at which Zhao will represent the United States in trips to Seattle and Tokyo ("I only know a little Japanese," she admits.) She also mentioned her major—physics.
For Zhao, the beauty of her Smith education has been its variety. She elevates the meaning of "liberal arts" to new heights, taking advantage of a system much different from the focused, one–directional education she might have had in China. Zhao has worked hard to excel not only in her major and her minor (government) but also in German. It's rare to find a Smith science student abroad because the requirements for the major are so intense. But Zhao's an exception: she spent last year studying in Hamburg, Germany, where Smith is enhancing options for science majors who want to go abroad.
Unlike some, Zhao doesn't yet feel the pressure to specialize. While some graduates are busy paring down their interests and funneling into graduate school (that will happen eventually, she thinks), Zhao is still as ready as ever to keep tossing things into her deliciously multifaceted liberal arts concoction.
Comparative literature major Rachel Miller plans to spend the summer in London. In the fall she's off to France, where she will work and live on an organic dairy farm affiliated with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
Photos by Judith Roberge