Life After Graduation With Alumnae Valerie D’agostino

By Halex Lux, Editor-in-Chief

Adjusting to life after attending college is something that every graduate student faces at one point or another once they receive their degree, and it can be challenging. 

There might be a ton of initial questions such as where to work, what specific field to go into, or if the degree earned is actually the right fit after all.

What do they do once school itself is no longer the top priority and they’re expected to figure out how to put their degree and the passions of their lives into real action?

One student that places this into perspective firsthand is Valerie D’agostino, a 22-year-old Daemen University alumna who graduated in 2021.

D’agostino earned a bachelor’s degree in illustration and was set on attending Daemen because she valued its program from the beginning.

“I really just liked the campus better than anything else I visited, and that is kind of what made my decision,” said D’agostino.

Although she had certainty in her school, D’agostino, like many other students, wavered heavily on her major and whether or not she should change it.

She originally had decided on going for art education because it was something she was familiar with, and she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do with art.

However, D’agostino felt pulled in a different direction after starting and fortunately found that this still fit within the school she had chosen and the subject she loved.

“I always had a passion for art but I never knew exactly what I wanted to do and after freshman year I switched my major to illustration, but I still don’t know if that is exactly what I want to do. I just know that it’s in the creative field,” said D’agostino.

For D’agostino, there were many unknowns in navigating life after graduation.

In fact, psychotherapist Satya Byock, in an article for CNBC, explains graduates experience long periods of confusion and uncertainty.

According to Byock, each individual attempts to establish what life is going to look like for them, but does so in a way that has not yet been required of them before. 

“College is explicitly about scholarships, academia, left-brain learning, and in large [part] it has nothing to do with life preparation, mental health, physical health, nutrition or basic life skills. The notion that people wouldn’t struggle after college is kind of silly,” Byock said.

On top of all of this, some graduates are forced to make career choices based on their financial needs and put their aspirations on hold.

They also are subject to higher levels of stress due to an attachment to electronic devices and constantly checking emails and texts for job offers or applications.

“Having external validation as our only validation is damaging. So, I think it’s really critical for all individuals, in particular, young adults to have time for introspection and self-love and self-knowledge,” Byock said. 

Nevertheless, D’agostino has been able to find many positive aspects of the new life she is navigating after college.

“There’s a whole different perspective than when you’re in high school or college and the real world is a lot more accepting of different art forms and styles and stuff. There are so many things in everyday life that are made by individual artists,” said D’agostino.

In her senior year of college, D’agostino began working at Hobby Lobby where she worked in framing and the home accent department, able to begin to apply her skills and learn simultaneously about customer service, organization, and time management.

Although it was a good learning experience and D’agostino found friends in her co-workers that she is still in touch with, she wanted something closer to her specific field.

Presently, she has a full-time job in which she is given the opportunity to express her creative abilities through a unique form of design.

“My current job is at a company where we make safety equipment. There are a lot of different areas where they make actual safety equipment and then there’s sales and inside sales and all that stuff,” said D’agostino.

At this company, she uses her talents even further than she did at Hobby Lobby, deliberately incorporating art into her work.

“I’m responsible for taking all the orders that the salespeople put into the system, and I create the artwork for it to be printed on the floor, whether it’s traffic control signs, safety signs, or labels,” said D’agostino.

While she definitely felt the pressure of establishing her life after graduation, D’agostino also experienced relief in achieving and finally transitioning into a job within her field.

“Honestly, it was really smooth for me because I’ve been working full time since I was a senior in college and I’ve been working since high school,” said D’agostino.

D’agostino in Bills attire with her dog, Daisy.

She also found that not having to attend school and work at the same time brought some relief to her everyday life.

 “It wasn’t too bad and it kind of felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders when I graduated because school can be hard,” said D’agostino. 

D’agostino attributes the level of calmness she was able to find in this switch to the preparation she received at Daemen University.

“I feel like Daemen does a good job of preparing you for what the workforce is going to be like because classes and everything are so rigorous that when you get out into the real world, you have a good work ethic and you’re ready to work,” said D’agostino. 

D’agostino believes it’s important to never discourage students in the major they choose even if there is unpredictability after graduation because there are plenty of possibilities.

Being able to see art everywhere and making art for such a place that uses it in a normal way is what drives her passion.

“You would never think that people make things like [street signs], so to drive around and see what else is made through artists even if it is really basic makes me want to keep going in more of a creative field,” said D’agostino.

According to a New York Times article regarding following your passion, a study published in The Annals of Behavioral Medicine reported that pursuing one’s passion can actually lower stress and lead to greater happiness overall.

The study also stated that participants who engaged in hobbies were 34% less stressed and 18% percent less sad during the activities, as well as for some time after.

In fact, Laura Vanderkam, a productivity expert is quoted as saying in the article, “Life just feels better when you have things in your hours that you want to do. There are moments where time almost has no meaning because we’re so happy about what we’re doing. The more time you can spend in that zone, the better life feels.”

Because of this notion, D’agostino tries to take time to do other activities she enjoys outside of work to heighten her day-to-day life.

“I like doing things for animals whether it’s just with [my dog] Daisy or my grandparents’ dogs and taking care of them, but I also just really like being outside and being around nature and hiking and all that,” said D’agostino.

She is also a big fan of the Bills and the Sabres and likes attending the games at their respective stadiums when they’re in Buffalo.

D’agostino wants to get season tickets and thinks it’s important to find hobbies that don’t necessarily revolve around your degree in order to provide new and exciting perspectives.

She also thinks it’s important to gain experience outside of school itself.

An article from the University of Portland about envisioning life after college reports that many students turn to peers, friends, family members, and coworkers that have already graduated and are in professional roles. 

The article states, “The ability to apply internship experience to the expectation construction process will enable students to enter the work world more prepared which will have positive psychological health benefits. Universities must also address students’ continued use of online resources when accessing and seeking to understand professional roles.”

While it’s helpful for graduate students to learn from others, it’s also crucial that they are given the opportunities to witness firsthand the components of their degree.

“Organizational institutions should evaluate whether they are enabling students to explore careers and network beyond online networks through preparing them with competent interpersonal and communication skills,” the article concludes.

D’agostino found resources at Daemen that she has continued to use in her career after graduating that have benefited her.

In fact, she still returns occasionally to utilize the screen-printing equipment which is a creative area she has found enjoyment in.

As a word of encouragement to students that have not yet graduated, D’agostino said, “Not everything is about perfect grades and if you decide to not stick with your major or do something else with your degree, that’s okay. It’s all about the experience and you have a degree that will help you one way or another.”

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