Why this college graduate is choosing to stay in Philadelphia: should a graduate move on?

Standing on the famed steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in October 2005.
Standing on the famed steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in October 2005.

I was given an open invitation for an entry level job writing copy for CNN.com in Atlanta. The pay was bad, and the reporting probably rudimentary, but it was a good name, a position with a clear line of succession and a straight path to New York or Los Angeles – the media markets in which professors and professionals tell young journalists we want to be. There the money is good and the reporting is top-level.

Instead, I am trying to get a job in Philadelphia – a city that has hated itself for at least the last half-century. Let me tell you why.

After graduating from Temple University – the college city’s largest college – in May, I spent the summer covering state government in Harrisburg with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association. Though that was just a few hours outside Philadelphia, my next step was a larger one.

For two months I was podcasting and travel blogging while backpacking through Europe, creating and growing WeDontSpeaktheLanguage.com with buddy and fellow new media journalist Sean Blanda.

In fact it was during the trip that I made my decision to give it a go in Philadelphia.

Sean, his brothers and I were enjoying one of the many remnants of the ancient Turkish occupation of Hungary: outdoor hot springs. Most of today’s versions are little more than spas, with sprawling pools, saunas and hot tubs. So, in Budapest, Sean and I sat in a jacuzzi – a bit too close to a pair of barrel-chested Hungarian men – talking about our coming futures, a favorite topic of conversation for us both.

I was weighing the options I had outside of Philadelphia – CNN and a coveted, though part-time gig stringing court stories for the Associated Press in Delaware, among other less prestigious offers.

But I spent the last four years coming to know and love and respect Philadelphia. I have contacts and sources and friends. I have a small collection of freelance options to use as a base while I look for more consistent work. There also is a person or two I’m not ready to set aside for a career I am not yet certain I want. My reasoning to throw that away was to challenge my comfort, try something new. But sometimes doing what is new becomes easy, not challenging.

I want the challenge of making something somewhere I want to be.

During my college years, I preached about this city needing college graduates to stay. Outsiders like me who actually like the city to bring our educations and excitement to this city of firsts that hasn’t had many firsts in a century or more.

That passion for Philadelphia was further cemented the more I have traveled. I studied at the University of Ghana in West Africa during summer 2005 and travel blogged for NBC Digital Studios while living in Tokyo for six months the following year. I backpacked Italy last March, have twice driven cross-country and for the past month, have been podcasting on cheap travel while riding the rails through the big, aged cities of Europe – from Paris to Zurich to Budapest to Copenhagen and Stockholm, and many more in between.

I have been privileged with these opportunities and more. I am not choosing a place blindly. I actually like Philadelphia and shouldn’t let the naysayers – many of them residents, actually – convince me throwing myself to Atlanta or Delaware or Iowa is the only way, best way or, really, any way to success or happiness.

I figure lots of graduates – young journalists or otherwise – come across a similar dilemma. You actually like where you studied, and it might not have anything to do with your actual college experience. While it can happen anywhere you come to love, this happens plenty for young people who study in a big important city, like Philadelphia – or, yes, even New York or Los Angeles. I graduated and realized I only just began to understand the city. I have enough friends – Philly lifers among them – who say I am not even as close as I think I am.

So I say, give it a go. After you graduate, don’t go too far for too long at first. If you want very badly to do one thing and that takes you elsewhere, then, of course, follow what makes you happy. But if in anyway, you are unsure about what you want to do and you like where you’ve studied, then try that, my friends.

You’ve developed contacts. If you did your duty, you became a part of that community. See if you can transition. I’m sure I’ll see and understand Philadelphia differently. Maybe things won’t work out. Maybe I won’t get the job I wanted or the life I pictured.

But I gave it a go. I think it would be a mistake to jump ship first.

Now, if you’ve studied close to home or came to dislike where you studied, these two are reasons to move on, though big cities offer a lot more learning to be had, even for locals, in the case of the former.

For me, this place is still quite new. I can learn a great deal about me and what I want to do here.

I’ve come to better understand Philadelphia through newspapers and the groups they cover. I researched policy for the Committee of Seventy for much of 2006 and aided food stamp applications with a nonprofit in 2005. To graduate with honors from Temple, I interviewed more than 20 Philadelphia politicians, journalists and academics and wrote a 60 page thesis on the city’s Republican Party.

I don’t want to leave things unfinished here. In two or three years I still will be, by many measures, a young man. I can then move on, if i need to, knowing I tried my best. I have some skills and experiences that I’d like to put to use. Now I’ll try to do that as a resident… after I find somewhere to live.