Allison McWilliams: Moving out

Allison McWilliams

Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development. She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU. This is the fourth for the spring semester.  In each she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.

You know that old Billy Joel song, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”? It’s an upbeat, catchy tune, but if you really listen to the lyrics and the message, somewhat depressing. It’s all about the reconciliation of the effort required to “make it,” to acquire a bit of the American dream, and whether that effort is worth it.

Joel’s song is about 1970’s working class New Yorkers, but in some ways I think it speaks directly to the concerns and challenges facing today’s young adults. In so many ways our students are amazingly ill-prepared for the realities of what awaits them beyond graduation. What does it take to be an effective employee? How do you build a successful life? What am I willing and able to trade off in order to “make it,” and who gets to define this for me?

These are great conversations for any mentoring relationship, and especially with those seniors who are soon to leave the safety and security of Wake Forest for the great unknown beyond these walls. There, they will need to be able to seek out their own support systems, find their own mentors, and navigate effectively through professional and personal challenges and opportunities they can only imagine right now.

One of the hallmarks of this current generation that is so incredible is their willingness to and interest in being deeply reflective. We know that this generation largely is driven by the desire for a connection to a purpose greater than they are, and this drive encourages them to look for something deeper than just work for work’s sake. They want to know that they are making a difference, that they can make a difference. They just don’t necessarily know how to define that, or how to go about making that happen.

As mentors, we can all support our students in these final weeks of school by asking them questions of values and beliefs, and helping them to connect their answers to what is to come. What drives you? What gets you out of bed in the morning excited about the day? What are your strengths and interests? How does what you’re going to do next help you to use those strengths and interests? Help them to find deeper meaning and purpose in their time here, so that they are able to live lives of meaning and purpose when they get there.