A Trip Down Memory Lane: Career Edition

Alumni reflect on how their high school experiences influenced their career paths.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Imagine a student, maybe in elementary or middle school, setting her sights on a career she plans to one day pursue. Medicine, perhaps, or maybe even law. She goes into high school with plans to one day conquer her field of choice, and so she takes the necessary steps to ensure her future success. She takes all the right classes and joins all the prestigious clubs that will not only help her learn but also form a network, maximizing her future opportunities. She even secures several internships at prestigious institutions sometime between the summer of sophomore year and senior year, finding new opportunities at every turn.

This story hits very close to home for many Stuyvesant alumni. Whether the career path in question was medicine, law, or music, for an abundance of students, choosing a career was almost second nature—a part of their identity they’d known about since they were little. As an aspiring physician and Stuyvesant graduate, Farihah Miah (‘16) always knew that she wanted to work in the healthcare field. “I don’t think Stuy had any influence over me wanting to be a doctor. I knew I wanted to go into medicine, and that was an individual choice on my part,” Miah described. “I want to help underserved communities, especially the immigrant population and the Black and Hispanic population because I feel like they aren’t treated very well in the healthcare industry, so I want to work to make some changes in this field,” she explained.

For Albert Zhang (‘19), a sophomore at Binghamton University, planning out his future involved a lot more trial and error. “When I first came into Stuy, I really had no clue what I wanted to do with my life,” Zhang recalled. “A lot of those middle school dream jobs lingered through my first year, like going pro in the NFL or playing games for a living—a lot of things that can definitely be careers, but realistically speaking, those are pretty narrow margins for successful people,” he said.

Emily Hur (‘19), a Cornell sophomore majoring in Computer Science, echoed similar sentiments, noting that she was interested in pursuing a career in biology but was unsure of the specifics of the field. Stuyvesant’s STEM focus allowed Hur to explore various subjects and delve deeper within her interests. Hur’s eventual interest in biology was influenced by science teacher Jerry Citron. “[Mr. Citron] was one of my favorite teachers at Stuy,” she said. “I took three classes with him—Human Patho[physiology], Human Diseases, AP [Environmental Science]—and that’s what initially got me interested in studying biology at a higher level.”

Likewise, Miah believes that the electives that she took helped her further flesh out her plans for becoming a doctor. Prior to taking electives at Stuyvesant, all Miah knew was that she wanted to go into the medical field, but these classes allowed her to explore certain subjects in detail. Like Hur, an influential teacher for Miah was Mr. Citron, as it was in his classes that Miah was able to delve deeper into specific science topics. “Citron was amazing! I took a few of his elective classes, and he helped me realize that I really enjoyed clinical sciences. I took Human Pathophysiology and Human Diseases, and although I remember them to be quite hard at the time, they were the most rewarding classes I took in all my time at Stuy,” Miah said.

While Stuyvesant is known for its plethora of STEM-based classes and extracurriculars, its humanities department has also inspired countless students. “I think that even STEM students who come to this school enjoy their humanities classes. The humanities departments are really exceptional, and definitely a big motivational factor for me to take my writing dreams seriously,” Shoshana Akabas (‘10) said. Although Akabas always had a preference for humanities prior to Stuyvesant, the classes she took inspired her to pursue a career in STEM as well: “I took Organic Chemistry at Stuyvesant kind of on a whim.[…] I didn’t even really know what the subject was, but I took the class and totally fell in love with it and decided that I wanted to continue it in college,” Akabas said.

In addition to all the memorable classes and teachers from Stuyvesant, extracurriculars played a huge role in the path that Akabas embarked upon. Akabas was the editor-in-chief of Stuyvesant’s literary magazine, Caliper. While Caliper encouraged her to write, it also had an unexpected influence on her future path. “The two editors-in-chief before me both went on to do [Masters of Fine Arts], and I think that inspired me and gave me a model for my career path,” Akabas said.

Many of the connections alumni made in Stuyvesant still remain today. Akabas works alongside English teacher Dr. Moore on the New Neighbors partnership, a nonprofit organization that helps resettle refugees. “I actually co-founded the non-profit with her [...] She was my high school poetry teacher and now she is a partner of mine,” Akabas said.

Although many students enter Stuyvesant with a career path in mind, this certainly is not the case for everyone. For Zhang, choosing a direction was a work in progress. Initially, after taking drafting with Mr. Griffith, Zhang saw himself pursuing architecture. “My passion for art, combined with classes I had taken, and a summer of experimenting with Adobe Photoshop, really drove those dreams of traveling the world and creating designs and art,” Zhang said. Since graduating, he’s tested various career options in college, including accounting and marketing. Recently, he’s settled on pursuing a psychology degree and is looking into various teaching careers. “Right now, I’m most interested in becoming a teacher or a school counselor. […] I’ve cycled through so many different career options, and the only reason I say teacher or school counselor is because these two have been the most recent,” he said.

With the constant questions about what our career plans are, it's tempting to commit to something just to get started. But it's critical to look at your career as a long-term goal, not an impulsive choice. As Zhang says, “Understand that what you want to do in life is a culmination of the skills you have, what you’re interested in, and the world around you.”