A Love Letter to JMU Grads

May 6

**Originally written in May 2014.  All of this is still true, and it’s still an excellent reminder to myself that I have A LOT more living to do.**

This weekend is a BIG weekend at my alma mater.  JMU seniors graduate tomorrow!  I have been liking pretty much every single Instagram post from JMULove and every single tweet or Facebook status about the end of finals and the mix of emotions that come with graduation.  I remember the mixture well.  I’m pretty sure my most commonly used phrase during the semester leading up to graduation day was “I can’t handle this.”  I was so overwhelmed and I did NOT want to leave.  I spent many evenings laying on the floor of my apartment thinking, “What will I do when summer ends?  What am I going to? WHY WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR?!”  Seriously, nearly all of my friends within the major were going back to school in the fall to finish the education requirements.  They were all steadfastly moving forward with their goal of becoming teachers and there I was dreaming of being a photographer with *one* wedding booked.  So yeah, I spent a lot of time laying on the floor going through a Taylor Swift-like range of emotions.

That’s why today I thought I would write a little love letter for those about to graduate.  Since I got up off of the floor that May (Ha, just kidding, I didn’t get off my freak-out floor until August when my lease ended and forced me off of it), I’ve learned a few things.  So, my darling baby Dukes about to enter the big, scary world, here’s my advice to you:

Step 1: Get off the floor.  You can do this.  Go, decorate your cap immediately so it has time to dry.  Spend tonight completing your JMU Bucket list.  Find the tunnels, watch the sunset at Reddish Knob, streak the quad, take your photos all over campus, try to get into your freshman dorm — just go DO things so that when your parents drag you away from campus, you won’t have any regrets.

My best friend and I snuck back into our freshman dorm building the day before we graduated.  It was the first time we had been in it in 3 years.  So. Many. Memories. My best friend and I snuck back into our freshman dorm building the day before we graduated.  It was the first time we had been in it in 3 years.  So. Many. Memories.

Now, when it comes to growing up and getting employed, this is the most important thing to remember: YOU CAN DO THIS.  Just breathe, be patient and work hard.

Don’t be afraid to end up somewhere new.  Whether your dream job is two states away or an ocean away, go for it.  YOLO.  I know we’re all sick of that phrase, but seriously.  You get one life, one story.  Make it interesting.

You are not a failure if you don’t take a job within your major.  You did not waste your money.  Do I wish I had perhaps gotten a business degree?  Sometimes.  Do I own a business regardless?  Yes, yes I do.

If you hate your first job, it’s ok.  Find a new one, then quit.  Don’t stay miserable.  You’re only 22, you have time to find your happiness.

This is probably the most important one.  Networking is everything. Be brave, and put yourself out there — you never know what will come!  Do not be afraid to ask alumni for help. I am where I am because I took a deep breath and emailed an alum I met ONE TIME to ask if she knew anyone looking to hire in the wedding industry.  She emailed me back in a day, and I had a job within the month.  A year later, a fellow Duke with an English degree Facebook messaged me for the same kind of help, and I was so excited to pay it forward.  I’m sure I speak for the majority of JMU alumni when I say that we LOVE helping fellow Dukes do big things.

The alum who helped me find my current job is still my favorite of all the Dukes. :) The alum who helped me find my current job is still my favorite of all the Dukes. 🙂

When it comes to post-grad life outside of work, this is the most important thing to remember: GO DO STUFF.  Seriously, get off the couch and go do something new.  Take a cooking class, go do yoga, see a musical for the first time, ride the bus without staring at your phone the whole time . . .

. . . speaking of phones, watch this video.  Don’t miss all the life that’s happing around you.  Look up.

Fall in love one big time or a few times.  Don’t settle.

Travel.  Take this time while you’re young to take trips and see new places.

Be the kind of friend you want to have.  Encourage people.  Remember that your words can either build people up or tear them down . . . pick wisely.

Keep a frozen pizza on hand.  You just never know when a cooking experiment will go horribly wrong.

Lastly, ENJOY this time of your life.  It can be scary, but it can also be so, so amazing.

Oh, and if you do go on a mission to find the tunnels tonight, don’t wear good clothes and take a flashlight. 😉

Shalese Danielle is a wedding photographer AND JMU alum living in the heart of Richmond VA. She specializes in preserving memories for central Virginia couples who are hopelessly romantic and madly in love.

comments +

  1. LisaLisa

    May 9th, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    Awesome Shalese. You made me cry. I’m so proud of you. You rock!
    Oh, and remember that time making a frozen pizza went horribly wrong? Lol

  2. Shalese Kocher

    May 20th, 2014 at 3:28 AM

    The time I didn’t have the gas turned on in my apartment or the time I burnt one into oblivion?? 😛

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