On three nights over the span of the past two weeks, seniors flooded into Gifford House in their best ‘business casual’ attire, looking forward to one of the first senior events of graduation season, a night that promised to honor Tufts seniors with good food, an open mic for students to share their best memories and at least one heartfelt speech by University President Anthony Monaco: Senior Dinner.
Unfortunately, many students were blindsided by the amount of alumni present at the dinner, donning nametags that said things like “Ask me about my career switch.” (Some, however, may have anticipated it, if they read the email sent to students carefully. One asterisk at the bottom of the e-mail told students, “Please feel free to introduce yourself, as you never know who could help you after you graduate.”)
When Monaco welcomed students and faculty — professors who past seniors have noted have made a significant impact on their education — he proceeded to identify the smattering of alumni around the room. It suddenly became clear that this was not only a celebratory evening for graduating seniors, but also, more prevalently, a networking opportunity. Recent alumni delivered speeches on their career decisions post-Tufts, and professors, who were supposedly being honored for their connections to students, were told to bring business cards. The pre-professional atmosphere of the Senior Dinner may have soothed the fears of some, but for many, it seemed only to exacerbate senior year stress.
“I took issue with defining post-graduate life as a professional existence,” senior Grant Steinhauer said. “What about continuing to grow as individuals? I left the dinner unsure about the overall purpose of the event. ”
Many seniors still don’t have jobs lined up for after graduation for various reasons. While networking may be helpful for them, Senior Dinner is the wrong time and place for it. The Career Fair and other department-specific programs, like the Film and Media Studies (FMS) Careers in Film, Entertainment & Media event, are more appropriate and productive. Seniors deserve a celebratory night nearing the end of the semester where worries about jobs and work can take a backseat to socializing and reflecting on their Tufts memories.
Last year, too, some students reported similar feelings regarding the Senior Dinner, “Senior Dinner made me so stressed,” Suze Kaufman, (A ’17) said. “All the people who spoke were STEM so it wasn’t even useful to me. I felt totally unrepresented and like the school really only cared about connecting Tufts kids with money-making jobs.”
A speech at this year’s first Senior Dinner featured a Tufts alumna who now works as a human factors engineer at a medical technology start-up discussing how her child development major and film and media studies minor provided the platform for her unlikely career shift. The sentiment was undoubtedly positive — that a liberal arts education can be applied to virtually any career path — but the implication of the speech seemed to reflect a general prioritization of STEM careers over other fields. Perhaps the heavy representation of alumni working in STEM at Senior Dinner was coincidental, but the overall effect of the dinner sent the message that Tufts equates success with a traditionally lucrative career — even one that will allow graduates to donate to Tufts in the future.
“It was awkwardly in between a networking or fundraising event and a nice, sentimental event to bookend our time here. It felt like a cheap ploy to get us to start thinking about donating already,” senior Anson Sidle said.
Perhaps Tufts should put more effort into helping students achieve the careers they want before their final college goodbyes. Through improving Career Services, updating department-specific job resource sites and funding more internship opportunities, Tufts could proactively help students seek employment. But at Senior Dinner, let seniors simply celebrate.