I graduated college in May of 1987 and during the summer I continued to wait tables at the Blackeyed Pea, the part-time job I had secured two years prior. Facing upcoming student loan payments, I knew working part-time lunch shifts wasn’t gonna cut it. The full time employees there had seniority over me and got all the best Fri/Sat night money making shifts.
I had received a BFA in theatre and a fellow classmate and I had a theatre project we were continuing with in the Denver area post-graduation. I was also contemplating going to graduate school in a couple of years. I was suddenly struck with the idea that I could now get a “real” job because I just received a college degree! I could move on from the kinds of jobs I had during high school and college, which included Taco Bell, being a Page at the Lakewood Public Library, a cashier at a cinema complex, and, during college I was a work-study employee at the library and an administrative assistant in the box office of the college’s performing arts center.
Surely, now with a bachelor’s degree, I could toss my waitron apron aside. I looked high and low for this elusive “real” job and was getting the message that an administrative job would be the most realistic hiring possibility. Temp agencies weren’t placing me, so I targeted some colleges and universities in the Denver area. (Surely since I had some admin experience at the college level, I’d be qualified for something in the higher ed system.)
After nearly six months of job searching and filling out applications, I FINALLY landed an interview to be a receptionist for chancellor’s office at a private university. At the time, the thought of being even a receptionist sounded terrific. I felt like I gave a good interview and my number one reference was actually the box office manager I worked for in college, a job was the most similar to what I would be doing in the prospective job.
I was friendly and in touch with the box office manager, and a few days after the interview she called to tell me she was actually contacted for a reference and was thrilled to give me a good one. “But,” she said to me on the phone, “I have to tell you that the woman I spoke with was interested in you, but had a very serious reservation – she was concerned that you would want to ‘entertain’ people waiting in the reception area. So I told her that even though you were a theatre major, you weren’t a musical theatre major, you had a more ‘serious’ course of studies and focused on directing. Just want to give you a heads up!”
I was…stunned. Really? My potential employer was concerned about WHAT?! How did something… like that… even cross her mind…?
Shortly after this call something began to creep into my mind…something an algebra professor said to the class during some casual chatting in my first semester of my freshman year. “Folks getting a BFA might reconsider and just get a BA. Sometimes employers think you are too specialized in the arts when you graduate with a Fine Arts degree.”
I remember thinking how that didn’t make any sense. I had to take all the classes one was required to get a BA and then a whole lot more on top of that in order to get the F between the B and the A. If my degree was so arts specialized, why on earth did I have to take algebra, biology, anthropology, history, philology, expository writing, English literature and many other “non-arts” related courses? In fact, because all of the requirements of a BA needed be met by the BFA student, plus taking the specialized arts classes, it often took five years for a person to graduate from the theatre program. (Why should I miss out taking advanced design, acting and technology courses?)
I did end up getting the receptionist job, fortunately with my sense of humor still intact. And I fantasized about coming into work on the first day with a pair of tap shoes in hand announcing, “I hope I don’t scuff the linoleum!”
But, I was desperate for this job. I needed the (little) more money than I was currently making and could not bear the thought spending the next several years with food spilled on my uniform apron and having to bring whiney adults straws for their glasses of water. I started my new job with a strong feeling a trepidation, knowing there was serious reservation about me before I even sat down at the receptionist’s desk for the first time…
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