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To the class of 2014...

To the class of 2014...

It alternately seems last week and last decade that I finished my last exams in Grant Hall, handed in my final essays and said my goodbyes to friends, ­colleagues and instructors. The structured regimen of classes and semesters, ever offset by the chaos of the house at 287 William, evaporated, leaving only the yawning gap of uncertainty: the abyss of “what now?” The English degree I had worked towards for the last four years had in itself been a raison d’être. Now that it was in my hand, its significance had to be rediscovered, reshaped or reimagined. As many Artscis felt, or were told, my choice of program wasn’t “profitable” in the strict fiscal sense of the word. There were no ­employers stalking the campus for the standout Shelley specialist or for the keenest reader of Henry James. And I wasn’t even either of those.

But I thought back to the chaos of 287 William, where I had lived for three tremendous years with six other gentlemen: four engineers, a math major and a kinesiology student. On occasion, they would knock on my door with a rare essay in hand to ask if the resident English major would look it over for them. As any professor or TA who marked my essays would know, I am far from perfect in my own writing. I find it much easier to spot and fix flaws other writers have made.

It so happened that with a little luck after graduation I gained my first and most loyal client for my nascent freelance writing and editing company. After sending them a résumé looking for any sort of work, the Ontario SPCA responded by asking if I would be interested in copy-editing their media releases. I would be working with them, not for them, through my own business. I agreed right away. In the year since, I have been given the responsibility for drafting their monthly newsletters, their annual report to their donors and ghostwriting a director’s blog. Here and there, I’ve rendered services to other clients as well. I’ve edited a novel and several journal articles. A part-time job supplements my income giving me a touch of stability.

Now, a year after graduating without a single clue for how my piece of paper would support me, I find myself working “in my field.” Outside of ­matters of Oxford commas and dangling participles, I have only one piece of advice to the class of 2014, degree in hand: play to your strengths. The paper you hold won’t tell you what those are; it just reminds you that you do possess them, and that you are more than capable of using them to achieve your designs. You already have. As that wonderful brainbox Samuel Johnson once remarked, “My dear friend, clear your mind of can’t.”

Cha Gheill!

Blake Bennett is a freelance writer and editor. He currently lives in the Hamilton area. He can be reached at b.p.bennett@outlook.com, but no, he won’t write your English essay.

More words of wisdom for new grads

“You may not land your dream job right out of the gate. But if you’re dead set on landing that gig, everything you do should move you closer in that direction. Volunteer and network in the right industry, and always keep an open mind to new connections. Don’t be afraid to cold call (or email). Make the most of your Queen’s University alumni network and use it to forge connections.”
- Katherine Wong Too Yen, Com’12, Social media editor, theScore, Inc., Toronto

“Don’t confine yourself to other peoples’ definition of success. You may choose a career path that is unorthodox, and may feel as though you’re not as accomplished as your fellow graduates. As long as you are happy with the choices you have made, you follow your passions and you are on the path that is right for you, you will be successful.”
- Kaitlin Lanthier, Com’09, Wine advisor, Handford Wines, London, UK

“Remember the culture of teamwork you were part of and foster it elsewhere.”
- Hayden Paitich, Sc’13, Drill and blast graduate engineer, Detour Gold

Read more advice for new grads on the Queen’s LinkedIn page

[Queen's Alumni Review 2014-3 cover]