On the eve of your graduation, I want to share some personal ideas about “gainful employment.”
Here are some of the jobs I have done and what I learned from the experiences.
1) Killing flies for a penny each during the summer at age ten taught me ruthless efficiency and that the end doesn’t always justify the means.
2) Cleaning the grout between the tiny 1 in. square tiles in my shared bathroom with a toothbrush taught me hard work.
3) Cutting the grass in the front yard under the birch trees filled with tent caterpillars taught me how to duck when there was trouble overhead.
4) Painting the older woman’s house with my brother Don during the summer of my 14th year taught me that there are skills that need to be acquired and respect for the craftsman who have acquired them.
5) Playing the piano in the summer after-show cabaret at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania taught me how to bluff and pour beer from a pitcher.
6) Collating employee training manuals at the Union Square Macy’s in San Francisco at 17 and on summer break from Princeton University taught me how to be humble and invisible and very fast. It also convinced me that I needed to complete my studies in order to make my way in the world.
7) Tracking inventory in that same summer on roller skates taught me how to be agile and wary at crossroads.
8) Cashiering at the student center taught me agility with simple math and how to embrace every customer who came through the line.
9) Au pairing for a six-year-old child in Venice, Italy for six months taught me that I was not yet ready to be a parent, but that I could make my way in a foreign country and behave like one.
10) Leading tours for visiting Americans to Palladian villas in the Veneto taught me that my initial studies at college were only a start and the value of research.
11) Ironing men’s shirts backstage taught me that I didn’t want to iron men’s shirts ever again. It also taught me precision and the payoff of menial tasks done well to the satisfaction of other theater artists.
12) Setting props on the turntable for the production of A Christmas Carol at the McCarter Theatre taught me that I didn’t have a great sense of balance.
13) Stage managing a show on Theatre Row for a producer who promised to pay me at the end taught me how to negotiate better and how to withhold services until I was paid.
14) Stage managing the Vagina Monologues for 13 months at the Canon theater in Beverly Hills taught me that there are “good” stars and “bad” stars — generally inversely related to their talent and success level — and that if you have to cry it is best to take a walk around the block.
15) Stage managing a show with 5 dogs requires excellent dog trainers but also human actors who are receptive to working with dogs. What looks good on paper isn’t always easy to accomplish.
So, dear senior students, as you race to the finish line of graduation, remember that there are many ways to be gainfully employed and though the financial rewards may not be immediate, the learning opportunities and personal capital acquisition never ends, no matter how menial the job. Best wishes!