Alumni Column: Peers, a Less Obvious Resource

Lauren Hoag '97

The liberal arts education seems to be a risk that many people are not willing to take these days. Those students who are facing the rising cost of college are faced with the decision to use their college career as an opportunity to discover what it is that they want to do and gain the practical knowledge to guarantee career opportunities come graduation. This hardly seems like a fair decision, for I doubt that there are many students sitting in an admissions office who know exactly what they would like to do. It seems more of a gamble for one to spend four years studying a subject or field of which he or she is unsure.

I was one of those students with too many options and no idea which to pursue. Perhaps I would be a teacher. I had been a camp counselor for nine years so that could be a logical next step. I had always thought of attending law school, and with a degree from a top liberal arts college, I definitely had a chance. Many of my friends spoke of working on Wall Street, and I’ve always like to dress up in a nice suit. I had done a three-week internship at an advertising agency my senior year in high school, which seemed to go well. Being a doctor was out of the question ever since a high-school incident with a chemistry experiment left me wary of the lab. Therefore I eliminated one option, but had thousands from which I could choose.

Thankfully, I did not have to make that decision at age 18. That was the point of attending Colgate. Colgate alumni can go anywhere – business, law, medicine, teaching, politics and more. I had to opportunity to meet representatives from each of these fields. They would be my classmates and my friends; the people with whom I would debate in class and share a late night slice after a night downtown. I had no idea that my peers would become my greatest resource when I left Hamilton, NY.

Entering my senior year, I had decided what I wanted to do – work at a non-profit organization on fundraising. I had absolutely no idea how my degree in history would apply to this field and, to this day, I am still a bit unsure if it actually does. I hadn’t a clue as to what type of organization I wanted to work with. With a career path in mind, I had to rely on those experiences outside my major to determine my next steps. I took a music class my senior year thinking it would be an easy A. The class turned out to be so significant that I eventually based my career around the subject matter.

Music had always been a passion of mine; however it was not always one of my strengths. However, I had become friends with a biology major who played cello, a chemistry major who sang in the chorus, countless English and Economics folks who sang in the various groups on campus and even a Music major. I had a network of friends with whom I could attend concerts and learn more about appreciation. When I finally took that music class, I had a variety of people with whom to share my passion, which only served to fuel it.

When asked, “If you could work anywhere where would you work?” I could only answer, “Carnegie Hall.” I was not altogether sure where I had found that particular answer given the fact that I had never once stepped foot in the historic landmark, but I knew that every major orchestra in the world performed there and that every soloist was considered well on his or her way after a Carnegie Hall debut. How would my degree in history guarantee that I was the right person for the job? Interviewers asked me that question when I applied. I simply answered that I believe that not everyone who attends a concert or loves music has a degree that indicates such. That in fundraising, I would be dealing with doctors, lawyers, members of every major Wall Street firm and people from all backgrounds. My experience with such diverse people over the last four years would make me that much more capable of working with them now. I guess my answers passed inspection; they hired me.

For the past ten years, I have followed a path from the performing arts to a non-profit health organization to my current role in higher education. Each time, I have found an organization for which I am as passionate as I was after my first job. Is a liberal arts education a gamble? Of course, but then again, so is studying something just to guarantee a job. Whether I needed help with a biology question for a class in my distribution requirements or advice on a decision for higher education, my fellow graduates are resources at my fingertips.