Networking After College: A Guide for the Midwest Adjacent
I thought this was going to be an alumni party. I guess something about my school never changes, even if the geographical location does. I attended college in Chicago, so much to my surprise they were hosting an event on a Tuesday night in Culver City, Los Angeles. Here are my unbridled thoughts.
This network event for my school promises refreshments, atmosphere, and engagement in my community. It delivered only one of those things, and I am not going to turn down an open bar. After getting a gin and tonic, poured with Hendricks gin, only the best when it is on my college's dime. I looked around. It is crazy to be able to identify people that look like they are from the midwest. The facial structure being ever so slightly different than that of the average white person here, I will describe it as the vertical and lateral distance between chin and nose, that tangential line is what I think is the most defining midwestern element. Others will bring up pale skin and moony faces, but while those features can be descriptive, they don’t give me the same visceral reaction. In the hour that I spent here I spoke to two people, one woman who was a CW, which means she watches TV to cut into trailers for shows (I think), and this guy named Peter Schader, more on him in a bit. So, if you have never been to a networking event, like me, you will be surprised to learn that casual does not in fact mean whatever you were wearing that day. The intention from my retrospective understanding is that you are supposed to walk up chit chat and introduce yourself to these people you once had a mutual experience with. Which works great if everyone is relatively the same age, but I was, by at least 5 years the youngest person there.
It's really Schader hours because when the clock struck 8:15, it was time for a powerpoint presentation on what's happening at the school. Which is about when I realized that this is not only a networking event for alumni, but it is a networking event for the school to find rich donors who have ‘made it’ in LA. Standing tall in his Trumpian power suit and red tie, we see Peter Scrahder who had some great quotables. He is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences which is where I got my degree from so I am pretty sure that I have met him before, but neither of us could recognize each other. He very much resembles Hank Scradher from Breaking Bad, and that is the second person this week I have made reference to looking like Hank, so I gotta find other references. He speaks to the strategic mission of the University, none of which I wrote down, but he prefaced almost all of his sentences about faculty and staff with the phrase, “as somebody who studied African politics.” Which, good for him, is not particularly relevant to the billion dollar fundraisers my school is trying to throw. One of the missions I remember is the want to an expanded role for “internationally oriented” students. I heard this phrase quite a few times, and on face value to me it means international students, but I think this is coded language for students that just aren't from the Chicago suburbs which makes up probably just under half of my school, broadening to the larger midwest that could go up to 70%. I could see why they are trying to expand out of that demographic, if their strategic goal is to increase diversity, both in population and output from the University, then there is a good chance that only drafting kids in from Illinois isn’t doing that. So what's the strategic plan? Get money.
To be fair, they have launched some really cool Chicago research programs where undergrad students are paired with a professor to do anthropologist style research on city developments. Students are paid 3.5k per research session which in their pilot program was 4 weeks this summer. That would have been amazing to do in college and possibly resolve some of my disenfranchised feelings from the city. With projections of student fall off and on completion of programs following online classes, we get the gem, “our school has lingering covid problems.” My school is using long covid as an excuse for falling graduation rates and “melting” of attendance from freshman to senior year.
Enough about school statistics, I don’t even care about that. After his speech socialization returned and I came to the realization that I do not like these events. Not only do I just have nothing to say, I think it is a tier of vapid social death. By my second gin and tonic, I thought more, maybe I am the social death. Maybe my inability to present myself in an engaging or professional manner, ability to speak to people I don’t know in a casual way, or speak to people that are wearing tight fitting clothing. But, is this a desirable form of social interaction? The point is that it is not supposed to be socially flourishing. The mutual experience of experiencing the same college seems to only work for people that went in similar times, it’s not enough to just have a tentative string to something, I need more of a platform to launch a conversation. Am I the social death grim reaper, tearing through this event by sitting in the most central, comfiest chair and eavesdropping on everyone's conversations.
I told the CW woman, “well at least I get to see people happy here.”
She says, “you don't see people happy. “
“No, do you?”
“Yes, well, maybe not.”
So the question is are these people happy? Am I unable to cope with a changing social landscape as I get older? What happened to smoking cigarettes in parking lots?
With these existential questions, I'll leave this article with some quotes.
“I am a Modello guy” Guy in taxi driver hat.
“This is one of those things where it's so easy to say hi to people I might as well.” Guy to the CW woman.
“Work with me to find the life you love” Guy in his own lifestyle coaching brand tee shirt.
“Have a good time in Maui, I hope to see you soon!” Guy to girl. Hey, at least it's not New York.
“Well, it’ll be hard because of my real estate business, but I will try and fit you in.” Guy to a group.
This is obviously not me or anyone I know. Photo taken from my schools Chicago reunion post.