My best gals reveal what they would have told themselves at graduation

Gals on Graduation

Ah, it’s that time of year again. The time where our social news feeds are consumed with pictures of caps and gowns and well wishes to recent graduates. I can’t help but get a little nostalgic, thinking about how exciting graduation was…the world was my oyster and everything was new. Then I remember the terrifying – constant need to throw-up – feeling that followed post-grad euphoria, and I breath a sigh of relief that I’m past that time of my life.

Regardless, I find graduation and the promise of enthusiastic individuals entering the big bad world, very inspiring. Even just five years out, I feel like I’ve grown and learned so much as professional, and I look forward to seeing how some of these bright young 2015 graduates will evolve. So as a graduation gift, I wanted to provide some cheat sheets for life after college. Words of wisdom I would have loved to know on graduation day.

But because I talk about myself all the time (and figure ya’ll could use a break), I thought it I’d switch it up and feature some women very near and dear to my heart. These women are my friends, colleagues, mentors, and soul sisters. They’ve nursed many a Bloody Mary with me, and are the women I go to when I need to talk. They inspire and motivate me, so it’s my hope they will do the same for you.

I sent an email out a few weeks ago, asking each of them to write down something they would have loved to tell their 22-year-old self at graduation. To make it interesting, I requested both career AND relationship advice – I know, you’re welcome.

So now I’ll shut up and let them talk. Meet my very best career gals:

Nicole Emerick



Director of Social Media at FCB Chicago

Nicole on Career: Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Know your place (it’s in the background playing a support role). Get good at the little things, little things are big things. Pursue a passion or project outside of work.

Nicole on Relationships: This is the time in your life to be selfish, don’t waste this precious time being obsessed with your relationship.


Mel Safford



Labs Director at Chicago Ideas

Mel on Career:  A friend once gave me this quote, something like “faith and fear both demand that you believe in something you cannot see…you choose!” I love this. We often encounter interesting intersections, crossroads, life events that give us pause…or in my case, debilitating night sweats, stomach aches, pints of ice cream gone in 60 seconds. I’ve found that if you are a good person, with good intentions, kind to others, call your mother regularly, try to recycle, then there is no wrong choice. You have a gut, follow it. You have the power to say no, tosay yes. Every choice has a valuable lesson, trust the universe and enjoy the ride. It’s like Yogi Berra said, there’s a fork in the road, take it.

And remember, in most cases it’s not about you. Grace, empathy, compassion, and gratitude should guide you through life.

And also drink more water, just do it.

Mel on Relationships: Buckle up, you’re in for a bumpy, thrilling, heartbreaking, can’t-live-without-it ride. Do your best to leave ego at the door and fight our dating culture of whoever cares less has the most power. Set expectations, talk openly about the direction of your relationship, and be open to new experiences outside of your comfort zone. And be yourself.

Oh and musicians and bartenders are a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of trouble….but f*ck it you’re going to date them anyway, but listen to your gut when it’s time to say night-night.


Caitlin Vanderklock



Freelance Producer at Leo Burnett

Caitlin on Career: Use what you’ve learned the past four years to push yourself creatively. You’re not gonna get to listen to The Decemberists (it was 2010, come on) with your coworkers and take smoke breaks whenever you want in real life. But you can channel the creativity you were free to explore then to create more enriching experiences for yourself and your community now.

Caitlin on Relationships: That goofy bar-back that keeps flirting with you at work? You’re gonna marry him.


Iryna M



Digital Marketing Analyst at Accenture Interactive

Iryna on Career: Be careful in crafting your path to success. The “right” or “best” path in your mind may lead you to frustration and disappointment because it often does not exist. It’s amazing how many different paths people have taken to achieve success. Turn your frustration into a powerful drive towards your dreams. Be flexible, adapt quickly and accept what comes to you. Always, always strive to achieve your dreams. Do what you feel is right, listen to your heart and trust your intuition.

Iryna on Relationships: The same. 🙂


Amanda Ryznar



Director, Corporate Marketing and Marketing Operations at Morningstar, Inc.

Amanda on Career: In my early 20’s, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ‘be’ and it drove me crazy. I envied people that knew that they wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc. My ambitions weren’t that specific and it really bothered me. I told this to a friend’s boyfriend one night and he gave me the best career advice that I’ve ever received. He said, “Stop focusing on the fact that you don’t know what you want to be — focus instead on the skills that you want to get better at.”

He was a few years older than me and I think he realized what I’ve come to learn which is that everything you learn stacks together to propel you forward.
Amanda on Relationships: If you don’t love yourself, do whatever it takes to begin to cultivate love for yourself. No amount of love that you receive from a partner will fill the void that exists if you do not love yourself.


Meghan Bower



Public and Media Relations Coordinator

Meghan on Career: Work hard and strive for perfection. Always. Nothing is guaranteed or given freely in life. You can’t control success; all you can do is be excellent in all you do.

Meghan on Relationships: Don’t stress about the social pressures of needing to constantly be in a relationship. If you’re happy and comfortable with who you are as a person then love will find a way.


Courey G



Content and Workflow Manager at Morningstar, Inc.

Courey on Career: The linear path is not necessarily the best or only path. There is profound good in taking different roads, even if you think you’ve figured out your route (and it’s okay if you haven’t figured it out yet).
Also: there’s no shame in doing something outside of an office. I learned more about work ethic, process, critical thinking, and prioritization slinging coffee than I did in most of my classes. And I was ahead of the game when I moved on.

Courey on Relationships: If someone is afraid of your success, intelligence, or talent, tread lightly. Animosity, lack of support, and a whole lot of heartache are sure to follow. And of course: If he doesn’t own at least one Supremes album, move on.


Wren Donofrio



Assistant Director Business Career Services at Loyola University

Wren on Career: You have your WHOLE life to work… travel as much as you can, as long as you can.  To me, travel is the ONLY thing that exposes you to the world. It helps you explore and compose your identity, which in turn makes you cognizant of your true potential.

Wren on Relationships: Find a partner that can make you laugh… and has a netflix account.


Liza Rush



Global Social Media Strategist at Social@Olgivy

Liza on Career AND Relationships: Internships are like first dates – some end with a solo drink and a prayer they don’t call you the next day. Consider yourself #blessed you’re not committed there for a 9-5. Also, is LinkedIn the new Tinder? (jokes, but not really).


So like, are my gals great or what?? Continue the advice sharing by posting your answer to “What would I tell myself at graduation?” in the comments below. 



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