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Chico State

11 Things Alums Want New Grads to Know

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1. Zuri Berry (BA, Journalism, ’07)

Deputy Managing Editor for News and Multimedia
Boston Herald

My advice? Be nimble. Your goals and roles will change. Your family circumstances will change. Don’t be afraid of differing circumstances, because change is inevitable. Instead, work hard to master new disciplines and prepare yourself for any and all outcomes along the way. That is the only responsible way to approach your career in an era of disruption and automation.

2. Sylvia Massy (Attended, Communication Studies, 1978–81)

Independent music producer

Be realistic, and don’t think you are too good to take a starting position. I once refused a runner’s job at a big studio in Los Angeles because my ego prevented me from taking any entry-level position. But the music business is tough, and I finally realized that I would need to work my way up from the bottom rung. I found a job as a runner at Larrabee Sound Studios in Los Angeles, and the world opened up in front of me. Within months, I was recording Prince and mixing Aerosmith. Remember this saying: “Take one step back, and you’ll take two steps forward.”

3. Jeff Barron (BS, Business Information Systems, ’15)

Staff Writer

It is important to remember to take care of yourself. When you graduate and shift into this new, exciting stage of your life, you’re going to constantly question your own credibility. No one talks about the self-doubt that kicks in post-graduation, and you should really take the time to make sure you don’t lose yourself in your insecurities. Everyone has been there. Everyone worries about the same things you do, and you are not alone. Confidence comes with time and practice. Just keep crushing it.

4. Jimmy Lillard (BA, Media Arts, ’04)

Assistant Film Editor
Pixar Animation Studios

I would advise upcoming graduates to do two things: travel and take risks. Traveling has always affected my perspective to be able to think big picture. Graduating college is a task that requires focusing on yourself and things in close proximity, and it’s easy to lose the ability to zoom out and see the bigger picture. Taking risks is my second recommendation. It’s the perfect time in life to take any opportunities that seem outside your safety zone. Try a job you aren’t sure about. Reach out to someone who has your dream job, and ask to talk to them about what it’s like.

5. Keely Bosler (BS, Agricultural Business, ’97)

Cabinet Secretary
State of California and Governor Jerry Brown

Trust yourself and be patient. Be kind and work hard. Listen and never stop learning. These are the building blocks for success no matter what path you take.  Along the way, take chances and don’t sell yourself short. You will have setbacks—learn from them. Keep being kind and working hard, and be connected to your family, your friends, your community. Strive for a deeper understanding of issues and seek diverse perspectives. And through it all, be happy.

6. Tom Tognoli (BS, Business Administration, ’88)

President and CEO
Intero Real Estate

I have made so many mistakes over my career it would be impossible to count them all. We have to remember that if we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t getting better and making things happen. Making mistakes and wrong decisions is part of being successful. Early in my career, when I made a mistake or wrong decision, I would dwell on it for days. Today, I have learned to shake it off, learn from it, and move on. I often tell people it’s okay to glance in the rearview mirror, but don’t stare at what is behind you, or you are going to crash! 

7. Krystle Tonga (BA, Political Science & BA, Sociology ’11) 

Assistant Program Coordinator,
Chico State Cross-Cultural Leadership Center

The biggest thing that I see students struggle with after graduation is the concept of “finding a job just to find a job” right out of college. My advice would be to never settle. Opportunities will come in their own time, so keep your goals at the forefront. Students can get stuck in a job that isn’t necessarily to do with their degree, and stay there for years. Remember, the longer it takes to find that passion area and keep driven, the harder it is to get back into it. Really search for what you are meant to do, know your worth, and go for it.

Photo courtesy of Food Network

8. Troy Johnson (BA, Communication Studies, ’97)

Food Critic, San Diego Magazine
Judge, the Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games

The “determination campaign” was the best advice. I still use it today. Find a job you want and politely, respectfully stalk it. Research the hell out of the company. Watch their news alerts (in Google alerts). Read about the industry, look for the industry’s big ideas and new ideas. Email the person in charge. Tell them you really love the company and are determined to join their team. Be sure to tell them you realize how busy they are. Never get mad if they don’t respond. Simply follow up every two weeks on the dot and offer, in bullet points, a couple ideas for their company and/or industry. I’m not sure this approach has ever failed me.

9. Brantley Payne (BA, Graphic Design, ’97)

Creative Director
Uncommon, a Sacramento-based advertising firm

Congratulations, you graduated. Now it’s time to make that awkward transition from schoolwork to real work, classmates to workmates, and teachers to bosses. Here’s a little bit of advice when applying for that first gig.

  1. Learn as much as you can about the company before you apply for the job.
  2. Apply for only one position. You can be a jack-of-all-trades, but you need to be a master of only one position. The one they have posted.
  3. Be hungry to help and willing to do any work that needs done. Yes. I mean answering phones and dumping trashcans. Every company loves a humble go-getter, no matter what level or pay grade they’re at.

10. Alexa Benson-Valavanis (BA, Journalism, ’00)

President and CEO
North Valley Community Foundation

It doesn’t matter where you go or what you go looking for, the journey to your truth is within. Bring with you these three things:

  1. A practice of self-awareness. With each new day, try to listen to the language of your heart. It will take time and discipline to hear it, but once you do, follow it without compromise.
  2. A lifestyle of compassion. With each new day, try to find deeper and greater means to offer compassion to yourself and all beings on your path. Yes, you must start with yourself. It’s the only way it works.
  3. A sense of gratitude. Greet each sunrise and sunset with all you’re grateful for. This will remind you of how precious this life is. It will also open the door for love, in all its splendid colors, to come rushing in.

11. Alisha Valavanis (BA, Journalism, ’00, MA, Physical Education, ’04)

General Manager
Seattle Storm 

Congratulations, Wildcats! It’s hard to predict what happens next but try to hold this one truth: Your greatest asset will always be you. Be authentic. There isn’t one path, one ladder, or one way to climb. There will be wins and losses. All of it, is part of it. Stay authentic and do what inspires you. There will be no greater fuel to your happiness and success. Measure that success by your own metrics—no one else gets to define success for you. Surround yourself with your champions, and be a champion for others. Do what you believe in and you’ll win every day.