Alumni Advice for the Class of 2020

May 18, 2020

As the Class of 2020 graduates and heads into life post-graduation, GW alumni share their words of wisdom and encouragement during uncertain times:

"I would advise the class of 2020 graduates to celebrate the accomplishment of graduating first and then rest, relax, recharge! The impact of COVID-19 on the world has been huge which means that many companies, organizations, businesses and employers overall have been greatly affected -- they’re on survival mode and are faced with financial hardships. However, the silver lining for recent graduates is more time to build professional networks and prepare for a workforce and new normal that awaits them! Remember, the world is changing and it’s up to you to prepare so that you’re a part of that change!" 

-Jenny Abreu, GWSB MTA '09, Founder and CEO of Forever Etched Events, LLC

"#1 Find a job, any job. It may not be your dream job yet, and it may not be entirely, or even a little bit related to your major, but find a job. Give it a year, you may not love it, but it will provide valuable skills for whatever job it is that you want to find. Applying for new jobs is much less stressful when you have a job already. Speaking of applying to jobs, only my first job was obtained through applying online, the rest happened through my network.  

#2 Build your network - find your people. Build a support network of people who are there for you, who you trust and who look out for you in your personal and professional lives. Don’t burn bridges, that person might hire you one day at your dream job.  

#3 Seize opportunities. Rise to challenges presented, take offered trainings, be the person your manager turns to for a project, the person that new people turn to for help. These little things will add up, I promise." 

-Emma Anderson, Elliott School BA '09

"My biggest piece of advice – be humble. During these challenging times, getting into the workforce should be priority number one, not landing that perfect job. Find a role with whomever is hiring, work your butt off and make yourself indispensable.  You may find that jumping into an industry you didn’t expect to, is the best thing that ever happened. I studied finance, ended up in marketing and now I promote some of the biggest concerts in the world. And if not, a resume showing drive and growth, will land you the perfect job a lot sooner than a blank one. "

-Matt Ackermann, GWSB BBA 2009, MBA 2014, Senior Manager, Entertainment Marketing at Prudential Center 

"Look back – now as you graduate – and look back anytime you look ahead. The path that you have taken is essential to where you are going and how you get there. This journey and your values will define what is important and you will find over time that life is not just about you, but the greater purposes which matter to you, your family, friends, colleagues and others. Our world and your community need you more than ever, so now is the time to step up. Don’t wait and 'if the wind will not serve, take to the oars!'”

-Zachary Bamberg, ESIA BA '08, Managing Director of Hai Point 

"Keep an opened mind so you can recognize when opportunity is knocking. Try to explore paths you did not previously consider and give every door a chance to open. The ability to adapt and make yourself useful is going to help you find a niche. Acknowledge the reality of these unprecedented times and remind yourself that you are not alone to help you stay grounded.  Finally, keep your friends close and support each other. It’s a scary world out there but you don’t have to face it alone.  You will all confront similar challenges and are capable of helping each other achieve all the things you’ve always dreamed of."

-Joe Buono, CCAS BA '09, LAW JD '12, Principal Attorney, The Law Office of Joseph F. Buono PLLC   

"Especially in uncertain times, be open and flexible – oftentimes the best opportunities are those you would not ordinarily have sought out, and will ultimately lead you to where you were meant to be. Understand that jobs come and go, but the attitude and energy you bring to them won’t, so hold on to your energy and enthusiasm. Be humble but confident that you have contributions to make, and that your opinion matters. Take any and all opportunities to learn new skills – you never know when they will be the edge you need to be a top candidate. Above all, remember that a job is just that – life is too short to put up with terrible bosses, bad working conditions, and stress – happiness in your career is balancing challenging, interesting work with life, health, family and friends." 

-Marissa Jacobus, ESIA MA '09, Project Manager, Renewable Energy Tax Credit Investments U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation   

"To use recent sports vernacular 'Trust the Process.' Initially, your job may not match what you've envisioned or expected, but so long as you work hard and forge strong interpersonal relationships, your work product and passion won't go unnoticed. Hard times won't last, but hard workers will. No matter the industry, a person's talent and work ethic will ultimately be recognized over a sustained period. Finally, listen to your gut instinct when it comes to the big decisions – nobody knows you like you; prioritize what makes you happy, not what others perceive as success." 

-Phil Kaminski, CCAS BA '08, Corporate Associate at Proskauer Rose LLP

"Remain optimistic and remember that a woe is me attitude achieves nothing. You have a unique opportunity to take your education and apply it to how our society is responding to this pandemic. Embrace your passions and creativity by thinking outside the box. For example, if you are interested in a career in business administration, build your network and knowledge by contacting industry leaders to learn how they are adapting their supply chains or retooling their manufacturing to address the challenges of COVID-19. Lastly, increase your momentum each day and be thankful you are alive, safe and healthy." 

-Gary Paul Kraiss, Jr., CCAS BA '09, Program Analyst, Private Sector Engagement, Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, U.S. Department of State 

"Graduation is always a time of unknowns, which I’m sure feels even more true at this time. My advice is to focus on taking the next step.  It doesn’t have to be the perfect next step; it just has to take you beyond the walls of GW. Remember that you will learn and grow from whatever comes next. I have learned the most from experiences that challenge me and jobs that might not be exactly “right”. Those experiences made me more resilient and lead me to where I am today. Cheers to taking that next step and enjoying the journey!" 

-Megan Lehnerd, GWSPH BS '08, Assistant Professor, Department of Food and Nutrition, Framingham State University 

"These are truly uncertain times. Yet, it might present some of the best opportunities. I graduated from Columbian College in the shadows of the Great Recession. Some of the advice I received from my professors still hold true today, as I instruct the next generation of change agents. 'Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.' Now is a time not just to hunker down, but shore up some new skills to prepare for an uncertain future."

-Oghene “OG” Oyiborhoro, CCAS BA '09, Adjunct Professor, NYU Stern School of Business 

"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 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!" 

-Ben Rosenfeld, SEAS BS '08, Project Manager, Strategic Engineering, Facebook 

"Managing change is a constant effort and the best superpower.  Most changes that feel big, end up being small.  Regardless of how crazy the change seems, how you react to the change is always in your control.  One day you’ll look back at your toughest moments and smile because change is the catalyst for growth.  So, do more than just react to change, make changes to create value.  Don’t worry if you feel off your ideal path or miss out on opportunities, life is a long game and it makes for a great story." 

-Jeremy Sapriel, CCAS BA '09, Senior Director of Product Management, Blackboard  

"GW graduates are special. You were motivated to go to school in the nation's capital, because, like generations of GW students before you, you knew you wanted to change the world before you ever set foot on campus. We live in unprecedented, uncertain times. The challenges we face are daunting, but with grit, determination, and motivation, you (yes you) will find a way to change the world for the better in ways large and small. Allow yourself to try, fail, try again, maybe even fail some more, and then succeed in pursuit of your dreams. Dare to be great!"  

-Julie Silverbrook, CCAS BA '09, Senior Director of Growth Initiatives, iCivics 

"I know this sounds cliché, but don’t be afraid to open every door you can and at the very least peek in. If you’re too focused on getting from A-Z, particularly during uncertain times when you may feel like you need to put everything you have into simply moving forward, you will miss out on the adventures that not only color life but might take you down a new path you couldn’t have imagined."   

-Sharon Testor-Bucher, GWSB BBA '09, GWSB MTA '12, Programs Manager, Enrollment and Student Success, George Washington University 

"Let your dreams guide you and motivate you, but don’t let them constrain you. You’ve earned a prestigious degree, and I hope you’re very proud of that. Open yourself now to new opportunities to learn in different ways with other people. The experiences you allow yourself to have over the coming years will shape your life significantly. My advice to you is to follow any path you really enjoy, even if it’s not your original plan, for a little while longer than you otherwise might. Explore as much as you can!" 

-Jon Tollefson, ESIA BA '05, MA '07, Co-Founder, CitizenWe, Government Affairs and Labor Relations Specialist, Minnesota Nurses Association  

"The worst advice that I ever received was that I needed to be “more nasty” to be successful. I offer you the converse of that, which you’ve heard many, many times before – always be kind. You do not have to be ruthless to succeed."

-Liz Hanpeter, ESIA MA ’08, Director, Therapeutic Area Policy and Advocacy, US Public Affairs, Takeda 

"Make sure you always give your best – even if the task at hand is stapling papers, make sure those are the most aligned, impeccably stapled papers anyone has seen. No task is too small to not strike for perfection and excellence. People notice and that opens doors!"

-Marisel Trespalacios, ESIA BA ’09, Senior International Trade Specialist, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce