College Matters | Time to embrace pinball, graduates!

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, December 21, 2023 - 12:45pm

Last week, we celebrated hundreds of new graduates at Cal Poly Humboldt’s fall commencement ceremonies. Lumberjack Arena was filled to capacity on Dec. 15. Graduates celebrated as they fulfilled a long-held goal, and their families and friends were radiating pride.

Each commencement, we ask an alum to welcome graduates into the alumni community. This fall, we were honored to be joined by Susan Seaman, a longtime community leader and a 2020 Distinguished Alumna. Susan is the former mayor of Eureka, she worked for KEET-TV, owned a small market in Fieldbrook, and now works with AEDC on economic development and other projects.

After hearing Susan speak, I wanted more people to know what she had to say.

Excerpt from Susan Seaman’s remarks to Fall 2023 Cal Poly Humboldt graduates >> On behalf of the more than 86,000 alumni of Cal Poly Humboldt, I would like to congratulate you on making it here today so we can celebrate your accomplishments!

Today is a great day. You may be excited or you may be nervous. No matter how you’re feeling now, when you wake up tomorrow — if experience has taught me anything — you may feel a little lost. For many years, you’ve had the goal to be sitting here today. You had a clear path about how to get here, starting in high school with your A-G college prep requirements through the General Ed and major courses to get through college.

But tomorrow, the world is open for you and you have to make your own path. Whether you’re looking forward to a higher degree or a career, your instructions will be less prescriptive. It’s thrilling and exhausting to think about.

When I was sitting where you are, I was melancholy. I wanted to stay in Humboldt, but I thought I needed to leave to find a career path. My friends and I packed up and, broken-hearted, returned to Southern California. I spent the summer with a part-time job as a reporter for my hometown newspaper and no real strategy for finding something more permanent. Fortunately, on a trip to Humboldt over the summer, I saw a public information job in the Times-Standard. Before the next group of students started their fall semester, I was starting my career at KEET-TV, our local PBS station.

I think part of the reality of graduating is that our degrees are not a secret manual on how to be successful. What a Cal Poly Humboldt degree provides is a toolbox to help move forward, in your career and as a citizen.

Of course, you will have the important technical skills you have learned in your majors. You also have the liberal arts education that you need in any circumstance to be successful — writing, critical thinking, and statistics cross all career paths.

And, there are those other General Ed classes. Did I think I would ever need ichthyology? Nope. Did I think I would be working in economic development and a Norwegian company would want to invest a half-billion dollars in our community, and I would be spending countless meetings where people talked about fish and the environmental and economic impacts of the industry? Also nope. The things you may not have thought as important may just pop up again when you least expect it.

One of the greatest tools you can access at Cal Poly Humboldt, and in Humboldt County, are personal connections. More than just a job reference, the folks you have met here — professors, community members, and other students — are potential mentors and confidants, and that’s immeasurably valuable. Continue to reach out to people you admire — even if you’re not located here. And always be willing to have a cup of coffee with a stranger. It has led to unexpected and wonderful impacts on my life.

We often expect our career trajectory to behave like a slingshot, where we move forward quickly and in a straight path. In reality, most of the people I know (especially the interesting people) have careers that are more like pinball machines. Maybe you won’t get the job you’re looking for right out the gate — so you take a job that’s not in your major while you’re building your network and finding that position that aligns with your goals. You will learn skills that will be valuable in your next job, so bounce around and collect lessons from each experience.

Remember that the tool kit you built here at Humboldt has extra room, so you can keep adding to it.

In closing, if you’re nervous about what’s next, take comfort in the words of one of my favorite authors, Oliver Burkeman: “Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities for success, for happiness, (and) for really living are waiting.”

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt. Susan Seaman is a journalism graduate from Cal Poly Humboldt (1996) and program director for Arcata Economic Development Corporation.