Alissa Collins - Class of 2000
“Where are they now” – well I’m at my desk, it’s Monday, I hate everything. It’s been 20ish years since high school but some things you never let go of. With that said, I’m thankful for the opportunity to write a little bit about my time at, and after, Mt St Michael’s. I’m especially grateful that no one asked me to come to the school and say this out loud. I’m a grudging, subpar public speaker – you did yourselves and me a huge favour.
MSM is great that way. It is an education in the truest sense, and a teacher in ways you might not expect. I learned that I should not be given a microphone, ever, in Year 12. I was College Captain and I’m not sure what I thought that role was about, or how I could weirdly develop tonsillitis mere moments before every assembly, but now I chalk it up to the broader political landscape. A lot of people run for things they shouldn’t. In any case, a lesson.
And to the extent that there’s any through-line from high school to what I do now, ‘know yourself’ is it. By way of background, I did subjects and had the mindset of someone headed for a job in Finance or if I was good enough at Physics*, then Engineering (*I wasn’t). I didn’t take a real gap year, but I’d wanted to work in America (the place had good publicists), so I thought if I could get something for a few months, maybe I could blow all my savings and be well on my way to abandoning Medicare. I ended up applying for a role at the Clinton Foundation in New York, and it was just one of those things. I faxed a letter, wasn’t qualified, but somehow they must have sensed that I was eager to learn and determined to get a fake accent as quickly as possible. So that really changed a lot for me. I worked for Bill Clinton’s office for a while, and later for Hillary, and even though I wasn’t especially political I was one of those lamentable election night criers when things went awry. The best takeaway was finally realising that I belong in the background. I’m comfortable around big events and personalities, but I don’t conflate fulfilment or success with visibility.
So what I do now is very much in keeping with that arguable irrelevance. I started working for the United Nations about 10 years ago, and I’m in the office of the President of the General Assembly. We’ve just finished our big week with all the Heads of State in town, and as much as I hear the snide comments about the traffic and the wasted resources – I also agree with them. It’s madness. But it’s not the full story. I travel with my boss and a few weeks prior we were in Georgia and Latvia with refugees from the conflict in Ukraine. We were in Armenia right after that, and I don’t know where the next trip is. But after working in the system for a while, I occasionally feel like making an impassioned defense of its dedication, spirit, and enduring usefulness. This is not one of those times as I have a word limit.
I want to land the plane by saying that as much as your school ‘journey’ (I do live in America) is your own, the school community is one you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. It’s a way to contribute, to understand and learn from others, and to become more self-aware. What I would say, not that anyone asked, to a Mt St Michael’s girl now – 3 things:
- The environment you’re in gives you a lot of material to work with. Figure out what’s interesting to you, what you might be good at, and most importantly – don’t do something just because the group does.
- Challenge the people with more power, defend those with less.
- Even if your experience of high school (and those years in general) isn’t a cakewalk – try to see the upside. Ever meet someone who was all-star, all-round, all-figured-out at 16? Bruce Springsteen writes good songs about that person. You are not in high school to peak there.