By Emily Neelon, Communication Studies, Class of 2017
Standing in an auditorium packed full of camera-armed parents and black-gown clad twenty-somethings, Cassie Sheridan threw her graduation cap up into the air, giving a nod to four years of working smart, playing hard and learning important lessons in unexpected ways. But as Cassie’s cap, emblazoned with the words “I contain multitudes” floated back down to the ground among a sea of hopefully decorated headwear, the new grad didn’t have a clear-cut plan for what was to follow.
In her essay “On the dirtiest, saltiest, most important, most wandering year of my life (so far)” Cassie writes:
“I believed then, as most college grads do in those days leading up to and following that symbolic celebration, that I did in fact contain multitudes. I was wrong then, I can see that clearly now. And I wasn’t wrong for all the reasons you may be considering because like any other reasonable 20 something post graduate about to exit the warm womb of academia I was terrified and I was sad and I was also so lost as to where I was going next.”
I met Cassie for the first time as a newly hired reporter for The Beacon my freshman year. She came to every staff meeting with impossible-sounding anecdotes from her year abroad in Salzburg, Austria and a list of story pitches that took five minutes to propose. I was totally intimidated by her – her funny stories were encased in a sense of wisdom that comes from one too many nights stranded in a foreign city or curled up until 2 am in a study room in the library.
Cassie has a distinct voice. Her sentences unwind with a raw kind of honesty. As the Living Editor of The Beacon, her column on dating was both touching and funny in its offerings on long-distance relationships and hookup culture at a school small enough that you will run into your ex and your rebound every time you walk to class. Although neither of us write for The Beacon anymore and Cassie became less intimidating in the hours we spent editing the newspaper each Wednesday night, surrounded by half-empty paper coffee-cups and pressing deadlines, she continues to inspire me with her adventurous spirit and inhibition. In reflecting on a year of post-grad wanderings she speaks to the questions many of us have about what happens when the structured walls of academia fall away.
With her dual degrees in political science and English and a portfolio full of strong, intentional writing, Cassie could have landed a traditional job in a number of fields. But there was distinct tension between who she was and who she thought she should be playing out inside her head. She decided to head home to Alaska for a summer of fishing in the Prince William Sound, “a place where absolutely no one asks if you have gone to college.”
This temporary position, “a final farewell to the great land of Alaska that had raised me”, revealed itself to be an important lesson in following her instincts. In the year that followed, she pushed her well-crafted cover letters and resumes aside and fished (a lot), traveled to South Asia, and enveloped herself in the beauty of her home state.
“I spent months (in South East Asia) scuba diving and beach walking and marveling and eating too much and drinking far too much rice wine and meeting locals and meeting elephants and entering new spaces and riding on slow boats and not showering near enough at all and when I now look at the photos from that time I wonder many things mostly how people could have possibly spoken with me when I looked so hideously dirty but also how it’s possible that I looked so unbelievably happy.”
As Cassie continues to lean into the unsureness of her life post grad, she speaks to the sense of clarity that came from following an unpopular path:
“And as I inch upon the one year anniversary of that cap flying into the air I wonder how it’s possible that 12 months ago I didn’t believe or want or know I’d be this person. Because in my year post grad I thought I’d be a lot of things but I certainly believed then that there was a good chance I’d be unhappy.”
To view Cassie’s 2015 Kate Regan Short Film Festival winning piece Life Aboard the Sea Prince:
To read more about Cassie’s professional journey and how the Career Center helped her draw her own conclusions, check out her Q&A below:
What was (is) your first job/role after graduating from the University of Portland and what did it teach you?
This past year I fished all over Alaska for salmon, shrimp and herring and backpacked around South East Asia scuba diving over 30 times in southern Thailand, meeting elephants, hiking deep into the mountains of northern Vietnam, meeting incredibly interesting and inspiring Vietnamese people, riding a boat for 3 days slowly floating from northern Thailand to Laos. My first job post grad was going back to Prince William Sound, Alaska and seining and living aboard a boat for the remainder of my summer. It is a job I have done for six summers in a row now and have fished with my family in some way my whole life. After graduating I had a lot of opportunities to use my degree and begin to pursue a more ‘traditional’ post grad internship/job but I decided it was important to me to have another summer fishing with my family in a place that I love.
Did the Career Center assist you in your job/internship search /applying to graduate school?
I visited the Career Center a lot during my final semester at UP in Spring of 2015. They helped me sort out my resume but also reassured me in a lot of ways that what I was doing was okay, while I vocalized my uncertainty about getting behind in the workforce or not taking an internship of some kind to buff up my resume. Essentially, the Career Center did a lot more for me than just look at my resume or help me with traditional career trajectories. They really reassured me that what I was choosing instead was okay during a time when I was really anxious and uncertain about a lot of things with my future.
What were you involved in during your time at UP (both on and off campus) that helped to prepare you for this position?
My year in Salzburg had a huge impact on me and my confidence to choose my own path and inspired me to travel more post-grad. I worked on The Beacon as both a reporter and an editor and those positions taught me how to write about my experiences and also how to package them so others may want to read them too (and to work under deadlines of course!) I’ve done a little freelance writing, something I thought was impossible but isn’t, and have enjoyed using my writing abilities to talk about the natural world I’m viewing everyday on the boat. One of the classes I took at UP, Post humanism with Dr. Weiger I think about often when I’m considering my place in the natural world and how to write about it and capture it for others.
What is your current role/job and what excites you most about it?
My current job is a crewmember onboard the F/V Sea Prince for herring, shrimp and salmon. I have also been doing some freelance writing and photography as well as working behind the scenes on various sustainable fisheries marketing campaigns. Eat Wild seafood! There’s so much that excites me but primarily that I’m getting to do something I love and am so passionate about, that is physical ever changing work, that is representative of my relationship with my family, Alaska, and the natural world. That I’m in this small way responsible for helping to feed the world, food that is sustainably harvested and incredibly healthy. That I’m getting the opportunities to see and share these experiences with others through writing and photography. That I get to spend a lot of time on the water, reading books and thinking about our relationships with the natural world and our food. There’s a lot to love, I feel remarkably lucky.
What is your number one job search (or internship or graduate school application) tip?”
My number one tip is probably to think outside the cubicle. I had opportunities to do journalism or work in policy, which are things I am passionate about, however, right now at this time in my life I am so happy with the choices I made for ME. I felt a great amount of pressure to get a traditional job, be pursuing my ‘career’ and I’m thankful that a year ago I was brave enough to kind of say ‘That’s not what I want right now’ and so I didn’t. I was lucky to continue doing a job that paid well and allowed me to pursue other interests. A lot of people don’t have that. BUT those opportunities are out there for people that are creative and hard working enough to find them. A lot of people I know are working these jobs they don’t really like or are uncertain about and just aren’t really that overall happy and there’s a rather unfortunate line of thinking that goes along with being in your early 20s or mid 20s or whatever that you’ll be a lot of things but happy probably isn’t one of them and I see a lot of people suffering from that and i think for me if I had chosen to take a more traditional career path a year ago I know I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now so I’m grateful for that.
What is the best career advice you ever got?
The best career advice is a tie and was from two people. One was from Steve Duin who I took a course with the fall of my senior year at UP and he told me the spring before graduation when I kind of uncertainly told him what I was thinking about doing (fishing, traveling all winter fishing some more) that I was doing the exact right thing and to not look back and to write it all down. I did and I’m really thankful for those journals now. The second was from my Grandpa who told me shortly after graduating that ‘the second you find yourself doing the sames you need to change something’ I think about that a lot now. I avoided the ‘sames’ a lot this year.