Destinations Unknown

Every spring on Commencement morning, I watch the new graduates process into the Quad, like a dark river of robes and mortarboards and tassels flowing in from all directions to fill the sea of empty chairs. Even the most determinedly nonchalant among them appear to get swept up in the spirit of the occasion, their faces betraying a glow of excitement and pride. I always marvel at their collective possibility, and at how many of the women are wearing impossibly high heels as they step through the dewy grass.

I also wonder where they will be the following week, or month, or year, with this phase of their Emory education behind them. And inevitably I think back to my own Commencement, and how I could not have imagined then what I would be doing fifteen years later.

On your Commencement morning, did you envision yourself right where you are now? Probably some of you did, more or less, especially if you attended medical or law school and were embarking on a clearly charted career path. But I would imagine that most of us—despite our attempts to steer ourselves in particular directions—have been carried along in our work lives by shifting currents and tides, drifting to places we might not have expected or even known existed.

For instance, when he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in economics, I bet Jonathan Starr 99C didn’t readily picture himself in the utterly remote, parched landscape of Somaliland, overseeing a school that sometimes lacks running water. Yet that’s where writer Pat Adams 08MPH found him this spring, after the former Wall Street finance whiz decided to exchange a lucrative career for the chance to change the lives of some of the poorest children in the world. Don’t assume, though, that Starr has gone soft; as you’ll see, he’s still putting those sharp business and finance skills to good use.

And you wouldn’t necessarily think that a handful of Emory alumni—including two lawyers, a business major, and a former All-American player-turned-entrepreneur—would be behind the comeback of the Atlanta Silverbacks, the city’s revitalized pro soccer team. In fact, the Emory connections run so deep that it’s almost eerie, and for an Atlanta-based business venture that’s saying something. Alumni can get discounted tickets to Silverbacks games, and I encourage you to consider taking advantage because you’ll be one of the most informed fans there. After checking out Eric Rangus’s story, you’ll have the inside scoop on the Silverbacks’ evolution and leadership, and a new appreciation for what it takes to keep a pro sports team running off the field.

Both Shan Cooper 89C 95MBA and Cindy Sanborn 87C literally grew up in the shadow of the transportation industries in which they now work. Several men in Cooper’s family have served in the air force, while Sanborn’s parents worked for the railroad company where she’s now an executive. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that they were drawn to work for companies that make planes and run trains. What is remarkable, though, is the level of responsibility and success they have achieved in undeniably male-centric environments. The next time you hear a military plane drone overhead or see a CSX train rumble by, you might think of these women and how they’re helping to keep those massive engines moving.

This issue of Emory Magazine is full of alumni who have landed in positions that look like their dream jobs, at least for the moment. Certainly Adam Richman 96C is no exception. With an MFA in acting, extensive restaurant experience, and a long love affair with food under his belt, he’s the perfect host for Man vs. Food Nation, the Travel Channel show famous for its feats of feasting. Like most of us, though, Richman had to find his way there by a roundabout route, sometimes overcoming doubt and frustration and seeking the patience to let the mysterious career currents guide him to the next stop.

I hope these alumni, and the many others we are honored to highlight in each issue, can serve as inspiration to recent graduates, helping them see that reasonable confidence and an open mind can sometimes lead to richer opportunities than the most polished resume. I also hope that our newest alumni understand that no matter how clearly they think they can see the future, they are likely to be surprised. Which is almost certainly a good thing.

When I was in their shoes, I couldn’t have predicted that I would eventually wind up working less than a mile away, helping to produce a magazine whose purpose is to both reach and reflect my fellow graduates. And I don’t pretend to know where I’ll be in another fifteen years. For the moment, though, I am indescribably happy to be right where I am.

Wherever you are, I hope you are, too.

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