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ten years after
was it all worth it?
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

Thursday at Aspen, it turns out, is gay night.

This is what we were told at the bar yesterday evening, as the last vestiges of the happy hour crowd finished up their libations and the bartender began to hang on the walls "artwork" featuring muscular men in skimpy clothing.

"Really? It's gay night?" someone asks. Point to picture. "You tell me."

Ironically, we were there to celebrate a friend's birthday - two weeks after it - because he'd requested that his coworkers take him somewhere other than their usual after-work hangout, which is - you guessed it - a gay club. My friend's not a gay man, but his vest plays one on TV.

However, before all of those happy dudes descended on our dwindling group, I'd been introduced to the daughter of one of said coworkers, and we'd been discussing her grad school acceptances and whether to attend NYU's Wagner School of Public Service or the Baruch College School of Public Affairs. We batted about the pros and cons (name recognition outside of New York vs. whether she actually wanted to move outside of New York, etc.), and she welcomed my experience as someone who had chosen NYU for graduate school. (I know some of you are trying to figure out which is harder to believe - that I actually have an advanced degree or that someone actually welcomed my experience.)

Regardless, in the end, for me it came down to the question of cost. I put it to her point blank, "Assuming you come out of school with the job that you went to school to get, will you be able to afford to pay NYU back?"

Because, the thing is, for a long time, I couldn't. Which made justifying the cost a bit frustrating. In retrospect, in fact, there's a pretty good chance that I would be in exactly the same job had I never gotten my Master's in Journalism. Not that I mind having a post-Baccalaureate degree; it carries some cache, definitely.

I was reminded, though, of the first column I ever wrote for Intrepid Media, exactly ten years ago this month, weighing the plusses and minuses of being a grad school student. It was called decisions, decisions and contained this little nugget at the end: So the question, I guess, is did I make the right decision, and is Journalism school something an aspiring writer should pursue? (I never knew if sentences like that should end in periods or question marks.) Well, I don't regret my choice to get my degree. And I don't regret the immense amount of debt I've accumulated (yet). On the other hand, I could write like this before I got into NYU (it's probably got a lot to do with why I got into NYU). The truth is, I don't know yet.

It's ten years since I wrote that. This is column 122. Actually, because Intrepid Media has a weird numbering system, technically this is column 1 and that was column 122. But that's not important right now.

Ten years have passed. I've moved from the temp job I had in P.R. (that's public relations, not Puerto Rico) to two different trade publishing companies, and somehow wound up in pharmaceutical advertising. That Cialis commercial with the two couples in the bathtub at the edge of the cliff? That's right. I have access to watch that commercial.

Jealous much?

As I reread my first Intrepid Media column, a few things struck me. Then I looked up from the page and started paying attention to where I was walking.

Sorry. The writer might get older, but the jokes really don't get any better. Which is actually something i noticed. I do like to think that my writing style has been honed over the last ten years; figuring out what people like, learning how to be verbose without being sesquipedalian, deciding that I liked lists of threes, just growing as a writer. So some things have definitely changed since I was that wide-eyed, innocent, towheaded boy from Tatooine.

In other ways, things are the same. I saw myself utilizing many of the writing conventions I use even today. People tell me when they read my stuff, they actually hear my voice, which I suppose is a good thing. And I can see how, back then, I was getting closer to what comes across today.

At the time, I wanted to be an editor at Rolling Stone. I thought that "listening to music, seeing movies, and watching TV" was my homework. I was years away from my RewardTV gig, which somehow managed to suck all of the fun out of being paid to watch television. So I've learned that not all cool-sounding jobs turn out to be so. I still get nightmares.

Which brings me back to the question I asked myself back then, the question that's in the title of this column: Was it worth it?

On the one hand, probably not. The writing style - news - that I learned in grad school I haven't really used much, and this current conversational style is one I'd been honing since high school. In fact, at NYU, I found when I didn't try to write in a matter-of-fact, "news lede" sort of way, I actually got better marks. Was it worth $70,000 to find out that my best writing style was the one I had when I arrived in New York? Doesn't sound like it, does it?

However, there's also the argument that the key phrase in that sentence was "arrived in New York." Were it not for going to grad school, I likely would still be living in Boston, doing whatever it is people do when they stop being professors' assistants at Harvard. I'd be leading Duck Tours. And I'd be bald.

In the end, my personal jury's really still out. I know haven't gotten to where I'm going yet, but I also know that I'm much further along that route than I was ten years ago, and that feels good. I also know I'm still facing a staggering amount of debt and that feels bad. So, on the balance, I really still don't know yet.

However, even with all of the big questions (wife, kids, nunchucks) still up in the air, I can claim, with a certainty bordering on mania, that I do now at least know this: Thursday at Aspen is gay night.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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