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No Such Thing as the Real World

News & Features | May 6, 2013

Whether you’re a freshman, a senior, or in between, finishing the school year means taking a look at your future and figuring out where you want to be after you’ve earned your Tufts degree. Getting a nine-to-five job or going on to graduate school can sometimes seem like the only options, but the road well traveled can feel narrow and confining for some. After four years of activism and internationalism, Tufts graduates are particularly prone to feeling stifled in any cookie-cutter mold, and choose vastly divergent career and life paths.

Gregg Kallor (A’00) did what many people with a passion for music only dream of doing – a few months after graduation he packed his bags and went to New York City to make a career for himself as a freelance pianist and composer.

“It was like dropping into an abyss,” Kallor said, recalling his first days in New York.

Although Kallor says he’s still waiting for his career to get off the ground, since making the move to New York he has won the Aaron Copland Award for Composition, performed at Carnegie Hall, played for former President Bill Clinton, and he just released his first solo CD consisting of all original music, A Solo Noon, on April 30. He is both a classically trained pianist and jazz improviser, and has composed music for piano, orchestras, and pieces for chamber music. A nine to five job was never a serious option for Kallor.

“Sometime in high school somebody said–‘If you can possibly imagine yourself doing something else professionally, do something else,’” Kallor said. “I understood the point. It’s a very challenging career in a saturated market. Of course at the time I was very attracted to the romanticism of that idea. I had no idea what that meant.”

While in college, Kallor considered doing something with his life that wasn’t music. As friends and acquaintances accepted job offers, the idea that there is a set professional career path one follows in order to be successful exerted its pull. In the end, however, he always returned to music. “I never felt as engaged and happy and satisfied as I was when I was writing or performing,” he said. “Even with all of the professional challenges, it feels right to me.”

Immediately after graduation, Kallor embarked on a trip out west for a month. It was an opportunity for him to clear his head and get away from everything. The recent death of a friend had left him grief-stricken, but resolved to live a life devoid of regret. It was on that trip, in the freezing cold and rain on a mountain, that Kallor decided it was time. He made a plan to move to New York and see what he could make happen for himself there.

It took some time to get acclimated, but when he did, Kallor fell in love with the “splendid chaos of the city.” His album, A Solo Noon, is influenced by the energy of New York, a musical ode to the city that inspires him. His album release concert is scheduled for May 30.

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Kallor is not the only Jumbo living a more bohemian New York life. Another alum, Noah Rosenberg (A’05), is getting attention in the world of journalism for his newest venture: telling the city’s untold stories. Instead of the old adage that guides The New York Times, “all the news that’s fit for print,” his eight-month old website Narratively publishes just five stories a week. According to Rosenberg, these original, in-depth stories about New York City are those that “deserve to be told.”

For Rosenberg, the process towards building this site started in late 2008. Two years after graduating from Tufts with a double major in English and Spanish, he got a job at the Queens Courier, a chain of weekly newspapers, as their digital director. He pioneered their video-multimedia department, launched and managed their website and a new magazine, and wrote for their publications.

“I was doing a million things – it was a dream job for me in a sense,” Rosenberg explains. “Sure, it was a small outlet, but for someone who’s such a passionate storyteller, it was really great for me to be able to work in so many different formats and to practice telling these stories in the format I felt was best, which is a core principle of Narratively today.”

In the time just after the financial crisis in 2008, Rosenberg found himself worried about the future of journalism. He saw that the rise of online-only media outlets in addition to the constant competition between news sources and social media had created a vacuum for venues in which writers could showcase their longer work.

“I started to see a lot of high quality newspapers struggling to make that next step [to multimedia] and closing,” Rosenberg said. “I thought: What’s gonna happen to [journalists] like myself when these jobs disappear? And on top of that, what about longer feature reporting?” In the middle of one night, inspiration struck, and Rosenberg stayed up until morning sketching out his new idea in
a notebook he kept next to his bed.

He says, “I thought, what if there were this platform devoted exclusively to feature stories? Then I thought, I always hated turning on the TV and seeing a newscaster telling a story that deserved to be told in 2000 words squeezed into a 25-second piece on the evening news. Or vice versa, a story that was really visually appealing told in a newspaper in 500 words instead of in a 10-minute documentary film.”

Long form feature stories told in the most effective formats formed Rosenberg’s main concept for Narratively. He “kept the idea in his back pocket” over the next few years, as he worked in multimedia journalism for various companies such as GQ and The Wall Street Journal, even travelling to South Africa to document the 2010 World Cup. Eventually, he ended up in New York, full-time freelancing for The New York Times. But as Rosenberg changed careers and locations, so did the world of journalism. The time was right, both in the media and in Rosenberg’s career, to bring Narratively to life.

After joining forces with several other freelancers and raising both awareness and almost $54,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, Narratively launched in September 2012. Since then, they’ve grown into more of a collective of the original site, with a new blog for shorter pieces and outtakes, and even a boutique agency for media production that is separate from editorial endeavors.

“Now is a really interesting and challenging time for us, challenging in a good way, because there’s so much potential for where we could go,” Rosenberg says. “I think it’s a matter of harnessing that potential and making sure we’re expanding in the right directions and really defining who we are before we start thinking too big. That said, it’s hard not to think too much bigger about where Narratively might be in two or five years.

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While some Tufts alumni feel the call of one of the world’s biggest and busiest metropolises, others find themselves, literally and figuratively, on the other side of the planet. Lily Berthold-Bond (A’11) left Tufts for Europe and ended up on Ko Pha Ngan, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. Like Kallor, Berthold-Bond knew that she wanted something more out of her immediate post-grad life than just a job or more time in school.

Like many Tufts students, Berthold-Bond went abroad in her junior year. The semester she spent in a creative writing program on an island in Greece ended up being one of the most transformative experiences of her life. On returning to Tufts from abroad, she almost dropped out. “I was really done with my academic experience, and I really wanted to travel and to be somewhere else in the world, exploring,” Berthold-Bond said.

A month before graduation, she bought a one way ticket to Europe. While in Europe, Berthold-Bond found several work exchange programs and almost took a position working at Atlantis Bookstore on the Greek island of Santorini. But something was drawing her to a place she hadn’t been yet, so when she got an offer to work on a yoga retreat on a remote island off of Thailand, she said yes.

At the retreat, Berthold-Bond’s job was to manage the yoga studio and the retreat’s website, and she also served as a counselor for a juice cleanse and detox, a physically and emotionally exhausting process, she had gone through on her arrival at the retreat.

“I was in a place where I wanted to do some self-exploration, and I wanted to settle somewhere where I could examine where I was in my life,” she explains.

The island retreat taught a unique form of yoga, a new age discipline with a very different set of beliefs, many of which Berthold-Bond says she was hesitant to accept. Though she declined to partake in certain aspects of the retreat’s teachings, such as urine therapy, a process in which one drinks one’s own urine in order to cleanse the body, she found that being around such an unusual school of thought was exciting.

“Being around people who thought so uniquely made me begin to think differently myself,” she said. “I was so lucky to be surrounded by people who were teaching me things that were very different from what I was used to. I learned that if I could accept myself for who I am and my differences, then I’m going to have a better time in life.”

Berthold-Bond’s decision to leave the country and adventure after graduation was met with support and encouragement from her travel-loving family. Some friends and acquaintances had a little more trouble accepting her choice. “I had so many people say to me ‘I wish I could that,’ and my response was always why can’t you?” she said.

Now back in the U.S., Berthold-Bond is working as a freelancer and considering going to graduate school for filmmaking. It took time, but Berthold-Bond feels confident that she has found the industry that encompasses the things she loves and wants. She didn’t have everything figured out by graduation, and that was okay.

“I was really scared about going away and not knowing when I was coming back or having a plan, but it was so easy,” she said. “I think that people are afraid of straying away from a path that’s already set up before them, but it doesn’t have to be hard.”

Whether you’re more comfortable exploring the streets of the big city, getting lost on a different continent or typing away at a desk job, the roads available to a new graduate are countless. Going straight into a career can be just as exciting as going to a country you’ve never been to before, and trying to make it in a notoriously difficult business can be just as fulfilling as pursuing further studies. Tufts students are a passionate group of people, and those passions are what guide both undergrads and alumni to find their happiness, wherever it may lie.