This is it: You’ve made it through college, and now you’re out there in the real world. You’re living the dream, right?
It seems like just yesterday that you were hanging out in Campustown and taking finals and BOOM, now you’re working and buying a house, and all your friends are getting married and having babies, and nobody stays out past midnight anymore. You’re all grown up.
Well, you’re in good company. Iowa State grads from the past decade make up a full 25% of all living alumni: 54,462 to be exact.
So VISIONS asked some young alumni to tell us about life after college: launching careers, finding love, starting families, traveling, figuring out exactly who they are and what they’re doing.
Here are a few of their stories. (Nine essays published originally.)
HAVE LAPTOP, WILL TRAVEL
It wasn’t until I was about to leave Sydney that I finally found a job there.
A few months before, I’d been in Iowa, taking a nominal run at grad school and deciding I’d had enough of college for awhile; it was time to do something different. Finding a job was the obvious choice, but I didn’t feel the urge to join the ranks of the cubicle commandos just yet.
What to do? As I slouched in my chair at my apartment on Hyland, my eyes landed on the world map I’d tacked up to one wall. I’d purchased it after having an amazing time studying abroad, where I spent a semester crisscrossing the Continent on the way to visiting 13 countries. (There must have been some classroom time in there too, but I’m at a loss to recall it.)
I jokingly referred to the map as my “to-do list,” and on that particular day one item on the “list” called out like a beacon: Australia. Huge, and a huge distance away, it seemed like the perfect place to pick up where I left off in my adventures abroad. The only problem was the expense. A 9,000-mile journey doesn’t come cheap, and that’s just getting there. How was
I going to pay for accommodations, not to mention have the means to explore a country roughly the size of the Lower 48?
My European bankroll had come from the First United Bank of Mom & Dad, but I knew my line of credit there was tapped. So if I was going to get round-the-world tickets plus spending money, I’d still have to find… a job.
Not long after, on a visit home, I started talking to the owners of a mail-order company that was having trouble making the transition to online sales. The owners thought they were doing fine, but over the course of a two-hour meeting I convinced them that I could take them from “fine” to “great.” I was excited for the opportunity, but thrilled when they agreed to let me work remotely.
Armed with the promise of funds to come, I ordered a refurbished laptop and a new camera. I bought a huge backpack and a ticket to Sydney (and Singapore, Athens, and London, just to round out my return journey.) I made sure my passport was in order and sent off for my Australian visa.
Preparations made, I casually informed my parents that I would be “down under” for a few months. They were surprised, but seemed pleased (especially after I didn’t make any request for money.)
Finally, the day of departure arrived, and I was off: a short drive to Des Moines, a flight to Chicago, a connection in L.A., and then almost 15 hours in a jumbo jet before touching down, 15 time zones ahead, in glorious Sydney. Or perhaps “mysterious” Sydney would have been a better description, for up to that point I hadn’t spent much time considering what exactly I would do once I arrived. “Have a great time, get some work done, and take lots of pictures” was the high-level plan, but when it came to the nitty-gritty, I’d spent so much time taking care of the details of getting there I hadn’t really thought out how I wanted to spend my six months.
Of course after traveling halfway around the world, one option does loom large in front of you: finding your bed. In this at least I had a head start as the company that arranged my visa threw in a night’s lodging as part of the deal. But as it turned out, the youth-oriented organization that had secured my visa clearly felt that I had youth-oriented sensibilities, to wit: peeling paint, scary shower, and bunk beds – all shared with strangers. Even worse (okay, equally worse), the joint didn’t offer any wireless Internet, putting a serious crimp in my plans to fund the trip as a working vacation.
All of these problems paled in comparison to the wonders that were just outside my (admittedly shabby) door: a vibrant city, gregarious people, a gorgeous harbor and of course the mighty Pacific all around. In fact, by the next day I’d checked into much improved accommodations, found an Internet cafe to connect me with the States, and set up drinks with a friend of a friend at a bar right across the harbor from the Sydney Opera House.
As the weeks passed, I began to develop a rhythm: rise in mid-morning, fire up the laptop and put in a few hours, then stow it and spend the afternoon exploring. After (sometimes way after) dinner, I’d get some more work done. In this fashion, I worked my way all around the country. I took a hot air balloon over Uluru at dawn, then touched down to go quad-biking in the red dirt of the Outback. I learned to scuba dive off the Great Barrier Reef, drove the Great Ocean Road, and celebrated my birthday in Fiji (and Thanksgiving in Tasmania.) In the process, I met some wonderful people and also got some good work done. Occasionally.
All good things must end, of course, and my own endings seemed to align: as I was finishing up the contract work I had secured back home, my trip was coming to a close. By the time I got back home, I’d have to find a new source of income. Or so I thought, until I had a meeting with one of the entrepreneurs I met while in Sydney.
“Listen, John,” he began. “I know you’re leaving, but we could really use your help. And honestly, mate, we don’t mind if you work remotely…”
An office-free life
When he’s not jetting off to exotic locations, John Perkins works from his high-rise apartment in Chicago’s Loop. He provides software development and consulting for retail, hospitality, and health care clients – without leaving home or putting on shoes – preferably in the middle of the night.
In his spare time, John prepares elaborate meals and bakes his own bread; he’s been known to have as many as eight different kinds of bread flour in his cupboards. John graduated from Iowa State in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
There I was, backstage at the Grammys, eye to eye with Beyonce. I was given all of about 10 seconds to prepare for the interview. But it didn’t matter. I was ready. And I had Iowa State to thank.
Ten years earlier, freshly enrolled at ISU to study architecture, I proudly walked into the Iowa State Daily with my book of clips from my high school newspaper, hoping to land myself a gig. I didn’t know they hired everyone who applied.
My first assignment was to cover the opening of a new dance club, The Dean’s List. Of course, I was only 18, so that meant standing outside at 2 a.m. getting some excellent interviews about the scene inside. One of the stumbling students told me I should come to her sorority the next day because Bob Dole was going to be there. So I did. The next day, on the first day of school my freshman year, I had the top story in the newspaper … and a bar feature inside! Shortly after, I changed my major to journalism.
I made the most of the Greenlee School and its media opportunities. I worked four and a half years at the Daily. I wrote for Ethos magazine. I even had a radio show on KURE, the
“coveted” 6-to-8-a.m.-Thursday slot. The “mug night hangover show.” I know I had a huge audience because I would announce contests (“Call in and name who sings ‘Tubthumping’ and win $100!”) and no one would call.
The Daily was different because I actually knew I had an audience. I wrote one of my first Moss Pit columns about Vanilla Ice being underappreciated (which I still believe, by
the way) and then started getting Iceman paraphernalia sent to me, which I later passed along to my kids. (We once took them to the Kid’s Choice Awards and my wife told them there would be famous people there. My son said, “Like Vanilla Ice?”)
I came to the Daily wanting to write columns and reviews (free CDs!) but actually fell in love with interviewing. I thought I was so good at it, too. I asked some groundbreaking questions like “How did you get your name?” and “How would you describe your sound?” During my first semester I interviewed a singer coming to the M-Shop. I had never heard of him,
so I asked the question about his sound. He replied, “Are you serious?” It was Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie and a prominent folk singer in his own right. I started really researching after that.
The Daily gave me a lot of opportunities, and I never understood why every journalism student didn’t work at the paper. It was thanks to the Daily that I was able to land solid internships. My first was through a program called the American Society of Magazine Editors, in which 40 journalists from across the country lived together at NYU and worked at different magazines. And I wanted this so badly, because Rolling Stone was one of the magazines and working for that publication was my dream since I was a kid. I will never forget reading the acceptance letter and being so excited and then getting to the line where it said, “You will work at Vibe.” A white kid from Iowa at a hip-hop magazine?
But, once again, I went in with my clip book, and after a few months of opening editors’ mail they let me write a few pieces.
The following summer, I went back to Vibe’s sister magazine, Spin, as well as to VH1. Neither was paid, so I lived on my friend’s couch in Jersey City with my clothes literally packed in a kitchen drawer.
Both of those summers, I took advantage of EVERY opportunity I could. I volunteered for anything I could find. I even got a gig as an escort at awards shows. The big one was the Tonys, and all kinds of big names were going to be there: Sarah Jessica Parker, Calista Flockhart. And I was assigned … Bea Arthur. But, again, I rolled with the punches and it turned out she was a great celebrity because she didn’t have a date.
So she dragged me with her to the back of her limo and to the green room. I had to hold her purse, but still.
I graduated in 1999 and started freelancing for a music website called Sonicnet. They gave everybody a beat and I got … no, not hip-hop – electronica! You know, because I went to
so many raves growing up! But I made the most of it, and it paid off when MTV bought Sonicnet and I suddenly found myself at places like the Grammys and Michael Jackson’s trial. I have gone on to work for Yahoo! and AMC Network, and even directed a feature documentary. And I owe it to Iowa State and especially the Daily.
I learned a lifetime of lessons at the Daily, like going with the flow and always being prepared.
Which came in handy with Beyonce.
Corey Moss debuted in front of the cameras on MTV and has since appeared on the music television channel Fuse and in various specials and documentaries. On MTV, Corey was the resident “American Idol” expert for several years and also handled dozens of celebrity interviews, from Madonna to Eminem to Trent Reznor.
Corey was an executive producer at Yahoo! Originals, where he created Yahoo! TV’s hugely successful “Primetime in No Time” as well as other programming. He also co-directed, wrote, and produced the feature documentary “Dear Jack,” chronicling Jack’s Mannequin/Something Corporate singer Andrew McMahon’s bout with leukemia at the age of 22, and he wrote and directed several shorts featuring the likes of Jackie Chan and Brett Ratner.
Corey, who graduated from Iowa State in 1999 with a journalism degree, is also an entertainment journalist who has been published in Spin, Rolling Stone, and Vibe, among others. He currently works as head of news for AMC Network, where he has produced specials on the Toronto Film Festival, Sundance, and more. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Kristin (’99 advertising), and three children.
In retrospect, I wish I could say I had more of an intellectual impetus for living abroad – a desire to learn European history and foreign language, classical literature and the arts, architecture and gastronomy. I wish I could say I graduated from college with a thirst for even more knowledge or a desire to “find” myself in a foreign land. Honestly, I just really wanted to keep playing basketball.
And so I did.
And I have. For seven years to be exact. I’ve been collecting paychecks (when my team feels like giving them to me), winning games (most of the time), and absolutely loving this transient, crazy, unbelievable life of mine (almost always). Honestly, it’s been both boring and exciting, wonderful and difficult, depressing and inspiring, challenging and restricting, romantic and lonely, sometimes all in the same day and sometimes all in the same practice.
In all honesty, I really had no idea what I was in for when I decided to take my jump shot over the Atlantic. I could say I was brave, but probably I was just naïve. There really is no other explanation for what I did: left my own country for the first time in my life to go live alone in a foreign city where I didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and had 20 hours of free time a day. I went to practice and got screamed at in a language I’d never heard before; I wandered on unfamiliar streets with suspicious men lurking in dark corners; I sat in my apartment alone for hours on end, lost in my thoughts, shuffling around the house like a new AARP member, unsure what do with my new-found free time.
This was what I wanted, wasn’t it?
The irony wasn’t lost on me. I had a lot of time to think, after all. I understood the absurdity and luck of having a job I’d gladly do for free. I was well aware that not everyone gets to take pictures next to the Acropolis or spend the weekends in the Greek Islands. I was grateful to not be working in a cubicle. And yet, the more I tried to kick my own butt into constant bliss and appreciation, the more I was confused as to what exactly was going on in my brain.
And then it hit me. Culture shock.
“Culture shock,” to me, was a definition I could rattle off from sociology courses but something with which I had no previous personal experience. I didn’t know that my brain was overwhelmed from stimuli that I couldn’t place in manageable compartments. It wasn’t an acute stress I could identify; it was insidious and impossible to pinpoint. Was it the language barrier? Was it the traffic? Was it the different daily interactions? It was the blanket of the unknown – the fact that every tiny expectation I usually had about my day was now different.
Take the grocery store. It was fun and exciting the first week – new products, written in cryptic Greek letters, the adventure of trying completely foreign foods with seemingly creative and different packaging. But as the days crept by, an extended vacation became my life; amusing became annoying; exotic became exhausting. And so the grocery store just got to be too much sometimes. I got overwhelmed trying to differentiate between butter and margarine (not to mention that baking with the metric system was just really too much math). I never knew what kind of lunchmeat I was buying or if it was even meat. And the anxiety of choosing adequate milk: the fat percentage, the expiration date, the refrigerated or shelf variety, the pasteurized or not, organic or not, cow or goat…it could really send me over the edge. Sometimes the world just seems like a safer place if you can eat regular milk with regular corn flakes. Clearly, one can easily manifest the culture shock stress onto something completely undeserving, like milk.
Living abroad was hard as hell in the beginning. I can’t help reminiscing about my first week in Athens, seven years ago. I was feeling so many things that I couldn’t even name my
emotions. I was trying to be strong, telling myself to suck it up, trying to think about how lucky I was, marveling at visiting these places some people only dream or write about: the Parthenon, Acropolis, islands in the Aegean. I was trying to focus on the positive, but in reality I’d never felt so alone in my life.
I can talk about it now, but then it was just a jumble of feelings and undeveloped thoughts that came spilling out on the phone with my brother. I was blubbering on a pay phone on the street in Athens, listening to him validate all the ways I wasn’t at all unique in my tears. He had lived abroad, so I listened when he told me I wasn’t going crazy and took his advice when he told me to watch an American movie.
These days, I don’t usually stress out about the little things. Living abroad has, among other things, forced me to let go of control. I think I roll with life a little more. If I guess correctly while buying milk and don’t get stomach cramps, I buy the same carton next time. If it doesn’t work out, I pour the milk out and buy a different kind. I’ve just gotten to the place in
my life where I realize it’s often not the complications of life that cause us stress and suffering but rather our reaction to them. I’ve learned the rather basic things in my life that I can control: a nice apartment, cooking, exercise, a comfortable café, time to read and write, phone calls with family and friends. The rest of my life can be messy and unpredictable, and it’s neither a reflection on me nor something I can do much about. This attitude, like most things in life, actually works sometimes.
Dribbling Through Europe
Cyclone women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly once described Lindsey Wilson as “fearless.” Following her freshman season, he told a reporter, “She’s made us a little meaner than we used to be. In a good way.”
Lindsey was a point guard for Iowa State from 1999 to 2003, during which time she was a three-time all-Big 12 Conference player. She scored 20+ points in 32 career games, including a career-high 41 points against Colorado during her senior year.
Following graduation in 2003 with a degree in English and sociology, Lindsey played
for professional basketball teams in Greece, Turkey, Slovakia, and Lithuania. She is currently playing for Electra Ramat Hasharon in Tel Aviv, Israel.
As the founder, owner, and lead presenter for Positive Performance Consulting, Lindsey also works with athletes and coaches to unlock player and team potential through mental
performance training. Her seminars teach the value of subconscious programming,
hypnosis, and various other modalities for optimizing performance on and off the playing field.
TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND A LITTLE DIVERSION ALONG THE WAY
The 11 years since I graduated from Iowa State have been varied and fulfilling for me. I’ve lived in England for a year, studying at the British National Health Service; held part-time employment at The Drum, the UK’s largest arts center devoted to the promotion of African, Afro-Caribbean, and Asian arts and culture; interned in Washington, D.C.; co-managed a county-wide political campaign; appeared on the cover of Newsweek; and co-authored a paper with one of my mentors, ISU political science professor Jim Hutter, that appeared in a journal produced by the Institute for Access to Public Information in Mexico City.
If the past 11 years have taught me anything, they have taught me this: Make plans, yes, but don’t allow your plans to get in the way of your life.
Seven years ago, as my time as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar at the University of Birmingham (UK) was coming to an end, I began to explore the possibility of attending law school – something that I had long considered. Growing up in Bay St. Louis, Miss.,
I learned that the law could be a great tool to promote justice and equality and create the type of world I was led to believe was necessary and possible.
As I was adjusting to being back Stateside and studying for the LSAT, something happened to make me reconsider my plans – something that I believe has made me a better person and, interestingly enough, will probably make me a better attorney one day. While portraying George Washington Carver as part of a Chautauqua Tour sponsored by the Missouri Humanities Council, I was approached about joining the staff of the George Washington Carver Birthplace Association (CBA), headquartered at George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Mo. I agreed to a three-month-long contract position, and after experiencing some level of success in that time, I was asked to stay on and become the organization’s first executive director.
My interest in George Washington Carver began in an undergraduate honors seminar taught by Dr. Sande McNabb in 1999 in which Carver was the subject. In 2000, under the tutelage of Iowa State theatre professor Jane Cox and with the encouragement of then-Honors Program director Liz Beck and Anne Beddingfield, whom I consider my very own Etta Budd, I wrote a one-man play on Dr. Carver’s life that has subsequently been performed nearly 300 times in 23 U.S. states and England, before audiences including elementary school children, at-risk youth, the incarcerated, governors, university presidents, knights, and dames.
Given my knowledge of what Carver meant in his time and what he continues to stand for today, the opportunity to work to promote his legacy was one I could not pass up – I decided law school would have to wait.
CBA was founded in the early 1940s, and today the organization works to promote education, support historical preservation, protect natural resources, and connect individuals with nature. In 2008 we produced The Carver Symposium, arguably the largest gathering of Carver Scholars and enthusiasts ever. Of particular enjoyment to me were the times when we awarded the George Washington Carver Scholarship to a deserving young person, knowing that in a real, concrete way, we were doing something George would have loved.
As I was working to promote and share Dr. Carver’s legacy, I noticed that his life was starting to permeate my own: I started eating all my vegetables, I started to care more about the larger environment, and I began, in earnest, to pay real attention to the goals I set and the processes I put in place to accomplish them. For example, after I turned 30 I decided that, in an effort to get in better physical shape, I wanted to run a marathon. I started running regularly, and now I usually schedule several races a year in order to make sure I continue to train. While I have not yet completed that marathon, thus far I have run two half-marathons and a 20k.
This past summer, after five years with CBA, I decided it was time to take the step that I had planned to take several years ago – to attend law school. Like so many of the people
I met and engaged with related to Dr. Carver’s legacy, I now work to share Dr. Carver’s most prescriptive story with others in whatever ways avail themselves to me in my everyday interactions. The Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) wrote: Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the great men of old; seek what they sought. In many ways I have been blessed to do both. From attending Iowa State, as he did, to living on the grounds of what was his birthplace, to getting to know individuals he knew, and to calling Tuskegee home myself, if only for one extended weekend each of the past five years, I have been able
to see his effect and his affect.
Though I will no longer walk in Dr. Carver’s footsteps in this most literal way, I will continue to seek what he sought: to explore my various interests and to find creative, purposeful ways to use them for good. I truly believe the words that George wrote so many years ago: It is simply service which measures success. Though I took a somewhat circuitous route to the study of law, I am now, at long last, enjoying the rigors of being a 1L at the University of Chicago Law School. It is not lost on me that the Law School is located near the site of one of Dr. Carver’s greatest artistic triumphs; while a student at Iowa State, two of George’s paintings were displayed at the 1894 World’s Fair held just yards away from where I attend class now. Just as his time at Iowa State prepared George Washington Carver well, I believe my time at Iowa State, as well as my time dedicated to all things Carver, have prepared me well. And while I may not have his multitudes, his example is one that I will take with me on this next journey, and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Continuing the Carver Legacy
As an undergraduate at Iowa State, Paxton Williams (’00 political science and communication studies) wrote and performed Listening to the Still Small Voice, a one-man play about the life of George Washington Carver, as part of his senior honors project. Paxton’s interest in Carver eventually led him to become the executive director of the George Washington Carver Birthplace Association in Diamond, Mo. He has performed his play nearly 300 times in 23 states. Last fall, Paxton left the Carver Birthplace Association
to enroll in law school at the University of Chicago.