Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Sondra Morris

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

I’ve lived with some pretty interesting characters over the years (oh, heeeey Tawnya!) and today’s profilee is no exception.  Sondra and I were classmates at R-MWC and then she had the (mis)-fortune to live with me for several months.  Sondra is one of the smartest, funniest, sassiest, well-informed, and interesting women I’ve ever met.  After graduating, she stuck it out in our college town, working away at the college, until this year, when she packed up her worldly possessions and, like so many young Americans before her, headed West.

Looking professional at her first post-collegiate big girl job

Sondra, share a little about yourself with the blog readers:
I grew up in a military family, so my family moved around quite a bit as I was growing up. Between kindergarten and my senior year of high school, I attended nine schools in two different countries and four different states. When it was time to choose a college I said, “Fuck it; I’m going to stay at one educational institution for four years no matter what.” So, I took a giant leap of crazy and attended the only woman’s college I applied to, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. It was fabulous and I loved my experience there, so much so that I accepted a job on campus after graduation. Unsurprisingly, my travel-happy upbringing kicked in after six months on the job and I was ready to skedaddle. I stayed on another year and a half to save up cash and deal with some personal baggage, then I quit my job and road-tripped out to Los Angeles.

For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always given off a very put-together, organized, ready-to-take-on-the-world vibe.  What was your initial life plan when you were getting ready to graduate in 2009?
Well…I didn’t have one. My senior year at R-MWC was spent coming to terms with the whole “I like girls” thing, so I wasn’t thinking too far into the future. My biggest concern back then was coming out to my parents and gauging if I’d have somewhere to crash if they weren’t okay with it.

One of the things that we have in common is we both choose to stay in Lynchburg following graduation, albeit for different reasons.  Are you glad that you took a job with your alma mater?
In retrospect, I can see that staying in my college town was the best thing that could have happened to me for personal and financial reasons. It was cheap, I knew enough people to have a fabulous support network, and I was only a few hours drive from most of my friends. Of course, working on campus was a whole different story. No one really talked to me about the transition from student to staff, so I wasn’t at all aware of how to navigate my relationships with friends who were still students. Then there were staff members I’d really offended as a student and suddenly working with them was kind of challenging. I spent my first year working getting strange looks and questions like, “Why didn’t you graduate on time?”

I really admire you for handling that transition from student to staff so well – I had enough difficulty adjusting to post-college life without working there!  But moving across country – that’s a REALLY big step.  Tell me more about that.
Now that I’m actually here in LA, my biggest fear is never finding a job and having to the leave the sunny, bright, salty, hot, smoggy oasis that is SoCal. I moved out here because I was just treading water after college and I needed to do something that would help me break out of the cycle of just working to pay bills to live in a city that didn’t provide me with what I need to thrive creatively and spiritually. A few of my R-MWC sisters had already made this move and when they urged me to try it too, I realized I didn’t have much to lose if things don’t work out. I’m hoping to get two things out of this move: (1) Fun. Like, the kind of fun that will become stories that will become anecdotes for my acceptance speech when I get the alumnae achievement award in ten years. (2) Some life experience to become a better writer.

Enjoying the LA life with Sam and Lianna (click photo for Lianna's interview!)

Speaking of writing, what challenges have you faced pursuing your dream?  Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
My biggest challenge as a writer is specific to the fact that I’m a woman. Male mentors like to discount my subject matter or say I write with a ‘weird’ or ‘common’ voice if I say even the slightest thing about my life. It’s only with female mentors that I’ve really felt supported in writing from my experiences. I guess this goes back to the personal always being political for women, but it sucks. My advice for other writers–male and female–is to get into some sort of writing group with people you feel you can learn from and be supported by. It’s great to get feedback from your friends, but it’s usually more helpful to hear from other people who understand technique and think with that weird writer’s brain. I’m a junkie for writer’s groups…especially if they serve wine.

You have a real enthusiasm and love for blogging and social media.  What have you gained from these experiences?
The web is amazing. Writing for it and networking across it has taught me that it pays to be vulnerable when you write–your audience connects to your words, you get a hell of a lot more out of it in self discovery, and your writing comes from such a deeper place. I hate sharing myself though, so it’s kind of ridiculous for me to be a writer because I write all this stuff and then I never want to show it to anyone.  My big writing goals for 2012 are (1) Write more and (2) Stop being a pansy and get super vulnerable.

When I spoke with fellow writer Sara last year, she gave me some book recommendations for postcollegiate readers.  Any thoughts?

Enjoying a pre-DC United match tailgate together for my 27th birthday

For Writers: Read something by Pam Houston. I saw her on a panel at the AWP conference in 2011 and she’s simply amazing. Also, try some of Francesca Lia Block‘s short stories. And if you like poetry, check out Andrea Gibson.

For PCs: At the risk of sounding like a hipster, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Any of the Roadtrip Nation books. Also, Young, Broke, & Beautiful by Broke Ass Stuart.

Finally, if you could go back to that rainy morning of your college graduation, what advice would you give yourself?
“Get over yourself and revel in graduation day: take pictures, kiss friends, and go out for brunch with everyone you know after the ceremony. Starting tomorrow, you don’t have anything planned in your life, so make a list of everything you want to do and just start doing it. Be epic.”

Many, many thanks to Sondra for agreeing to the be the first (but not last) profile of 2012.  As she says, she’s all up in the Interwebs – check out www.SondraRoseMarie.com for links to Twitter, Tumblr, etc.  As always, you can leave questions for Sondra in the comments section as well!

Profile in Post-Collegiate Courage: Tawnya Ravy

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

I strive to offer different perspectives on this blog, especially considering that this blog is borne out of the realization that I have no idea what I’m doing with my life and where I’m headed.  This week, I wanted to introduce you to my college classmate (and – full disclosure – current roommate/slumlord – just kidding!) Tawnya Ravy.  What makes Tawnya’s perspective so different from mine as she has used the post-collegiate years to work her way through a master’s degree and into a doctorate program at the George Washington University, all while turning around to teach students not much younger than we are!  She was kind enough to share a little advice on taking the higher education post-college path.

Tawnya, from undergraduate leader to doctoral candidate and teacher in just a few years

Hello, roomie!  For those readers who do not share a domicile with you, would you mind sharing a little about yourself.

I am originally from California, but I have now lived on the East Coast almost as long as I lived on the West Coast. I just turned 26 years old and now live in Fairfax, VA.  As you know, I attend Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia and then straight into the graduate program at GWU.   I originally wanted to pursue law but majored in English and never looked back.  

You had a pretty impressive resume coming out of college, especially with being Student Body President.  What was your initial plan when we graduated?
Luckily, my plans were pretty much set on the last day of college because I was accepted into the GWU English Graduate Program. My plan was to pursue a PhD. in literature.  I had ambitions to finish my PhD early as well as harbored dreams of traveling and teaching abroad.    I thought that graduate school would give me the flexibility and credentials to do so but have learned that finding the time was more difficult than I imagined because it eats your life!
I know a lot of our fellow classmates, as well as students across the country, who choose to wait a few years for graduate school.  What made you decide to go right away?  Do you have any regrets?
The fall before I graduated college, I was planning on attending law school. Half-way through an application process, I realized that I did not have enough passion for law to make it worthwhile. Luckily, I was already majoring in English because someone told me that it was the best preparation for the amount of reading/writing required in law school. I discussed my options with a trusted professor who suggested I begin applying to graduate schools right away. My first choice was GWU, and I heard from them fairly quickly in the application process. So far, I do not have any regrets about beginning graduate school right away, especially because I thrive in academia and was able to utilize my undergraduate experience right away, building off those four years’ of momentum.
Since I witness your day-to-day life up close, I am always impressed by the balance you strike between school (graduate classes, dissertation research) and work, which for you is teaching 2-3 classes a semester.  How do you maintain that balance and choose what opportunities to pursue?
I am flattered that you think I have struck a balance. It is much better now than it was when I first started. I was working over 40 hours a week in an unpleasant working environment while maintaining a full course load in my first year of graduate school. I realized quickly that this could not continue if I wanted to succeed in my program, so I moved back with my parents for a little while.  Now that I have an M.A. I am able to teach and continue my studies, but the fact remains that my teaching load often trumps my graduate work – something that will only get tougher down the road.
Having so much on your plate, what things have you wanted to pursue but haven’t been able to yet?
I have been fairly blessed in that I have been able to do most of what I set out to do. I am sure I had some wonderful, crazy ambitions in college to take a month’s road trip around Europe, but I have ultimately been satisfied with a week’s trip here and there. The one thing, right now, that I would love to do is teach college abroad for a year or two. I loved living abroad in college, and I want that experience again before I settle down in my adult life. The trick will be timing – when exactly to do this in the never-ending process of obtaining a PhD.
It could seem that things have gone smoothly for you – straight from college to a graduate program with teaching opportunities on the side.  But there are challenges on every post-collegiate path – can you share some of yours

Tawnya, with fellow graduate school scholars, enjoying the District's signature cherry blossom season

?

I would say that graduate school itself has been a great challenge, as it is for most people, but especially because I have been completely unfunded from day one. The biggest challenge for me has been achieving that desire to support myself while going to graduate school full time. Now it has evolved into balancing the desire to teach a full load and to make progress on my graduate work. At the moment, this is further complicated by the fact that I am receiving little support or guidance from my advisers. I am proud of what I have accomplished so far, but as I enter the dissertation-writing stage of my program, I am more than a little anxious about the challenges to come.
Something tells me that you are more than up to the challenge!  Obviously strong planning and hard work have contributed to your success but do you have any examples of random happenstance that have helped bring you here?
When I began the graduate program, I was fairly confident in my ability to do scholarly work, but, as an unfunded student, there was no opportunity to try my hand at teaching. One day I received a fairly random email about an interview process for new M.A. holders – a teaching opportunity. I arrived to meet my future boss with no idea what I would do in the classroom. The fact that, despite my obvious inexperience and lack of preparation, he still gave me a job is a miracle. It was this opportunity that convinced me that I have chosen the right profession. After teaching for two semesters, I had an “aha” moment when I realized that I would love nothing better than teaching at the college level.

Last week, when I interviewed Sara, she shared a couple books that inspired her own writing.  As the resident literary expert and book buff, is there a book that you think encapsulates the post-collegiate experience?

This is going to sound weird, but I often think of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim when I think of my own post-collegiate life. Officially trained for one career, Kim ends up in an entirely different role which, although exciting and rewarding, threatens to compromise his true nature and his path to a higher calling. I realize that there are many books about newly graduated people facing a new, “real” world, but Kim is the novel which, for me, speaks to the fundamental compromises we all make upon entering adulthood.

Tawnya and I, in an obligatory roommate photo at a recent luau-themed soiree

My gratitude for Tawnya for taking time out of her ridiculously busy schedule to share all this with the blog (I guess I owe her a dinner now…)  Interested in more graduate student advice?  Feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section and I’ll be sure that Tawnya answers them!