Life is a journey, author and humor writer Joe Queenan says, and if you don't know exactly what you want to do after college, prepare for a meandering path that could well lead you to a career completely different from what you studied.
Don't despair along the way, Queenan advised the Franklin & Marshall College audience at the April 25 Common Hour, the last of the 2012-2013 academic year. He said his British-born wife earned her degree in French, but she became a certified public account and today is the office manager for David Rockefeller, philanthropist and grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller.
Amid insightful advice to a crowd that included students already preparing to enter the job market, the 62-year-old writer used his acerbic wit in response to such subjects as the what-is-your-greatest-weakness-question, popular among job interviewers.
"My greatest weakness is when people ask me questions I don't like, I smack them," he said, deploring what he described as an impersonal interrogation taken from a how-to-hire handbook. "They're not engaging you as a human being."
Queenan said the question misses the point: We all have weakness. He suggested several answers to show the interviewer you're a person, including, "ice cream."
For graduates unsure what they will do with their degrees, Queenan advised them to take any job they could land, even a bad one, if only to get "a foot in the door" and start the journey that may lead them to a successful career.
Luck plays a greater role than people generally care to admit in finding success, he said, but to find luck means being willing to take on jobs you may not like.
"A job leads to other jobs," he said. "If you've got talent you'll be recognized, and if you're not recognized, you don't have any talent."
Alanna Wittet, '15, an environmental studies major, agreed with Queenan's view of life after college, calling it "inspirational, optimistic and realistic." She was one of about 300 students, faculty and professional staff who attended Common Hour, which is held on Thursdays throughout the academic year to bring the entire F&M community together for culturally and academically enriching events.
"I think it's very true," Wittet said. "It shouldn't matter what you do when you get out of college. It's the journey you take in life."
Queenan paraphrased a quote by Oliver Cromwell, leader of England, Scotland and Ireland in the 1650s, as pertinent to college graduates today: "No one goes further than he who doesn't know where he's going."
A self-professed Anglophile, Queenan offered those who don’t immediately land their dream jobs a quote from Winston Churchill, Britain's leader in World War II: "If you're going through hell, keep going."
While he enjoyed Queenan's talk, Brian Rivera '13, a scientific and philosophical studies of the mind major, said he knows what he's going to do after college – work in F&M’s College Prep program before furthering his education in science.
"I don't know if I'd take his philosophy and completely embrace it," he said.
As a journalist and humorist, Queenan has written for a wide range of publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Spy Magazine, The Guardian, TV Guide and the Wall Street Journal, where he writes a column, "Moving Targets."
He has written satirically about "jolly wrapping paper;" the cost and worth of law schools -- "The mechanics of the Law School 419 Scam are very similar to those of the legendary Nigerian con job," he said -- and the wealthy: "Rich people are like the weather: unpredictable and often annoying, but where would we be without them?"
He's the author of nine books including "Red Lobster, White Trash and Blue Lagoon," a critique of American low culture, and his memoir, "Closing Time," about growing up in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood with a violent, alcoholic father.
Queenan's connection to F&M is his son, Gordon Queenan '09, a budding writer who played football for the College and is now finishing law school.