Where it all began

I’ll never forget being 10 years old, standing on top of the World Trade Center looking down from the observation deck. From over 100 stories up, everything looked so tiny below. 

On September 11, 2001, I was a High School Junior, in Grand Ledge, MI when I got the call at school. A few of my family members worked in the World Trade Center and my aunt was a first responder with NYPD during that tragic day. While we waited to hear news from our family members, all I remember feeling was: “I have to do something.” I wanted to be a part of the solution. That’s why I joined the Marine Corps.

It seems like it was just yesterday I was walking through the airport with the other soon to be Marines, singing “California” by Phantom Planet through the terminal halls. On our way to bootcamp in San Diego, we were so excited and nervous for what was next to come. Before then, I had never left my family for more than a few days. 

I learned so much during my time in the Marine Corps. I gained some amazing friends and lost some of the best, including one of my best friends, Sgt. Dennis Rodeman. The Marine Corps taught me to be both self-sufficient and to work as part of a team. I learned how to take action when something occurring near me wasn’t right. I learned how to take responsibility and not blame others for my actions. Most importantly, I learned that one person can make a difference, but together we are so much more powerful. 

I decided then that I would live a life of purpose. Edmund Burke said it best: “[W]hen bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Life after the Corps

After being out of the military for a few months, I wanted to go back. I’d be lying if I said there’s not times I miss the camaraderie and would do it all again. It became very difficult deciding how to start a career outside the military. Believing that Federal Law Enforcement was the only place I could work, given my experience, I started taking Criminal Justice classes at Lansing Community College in MI. During that time, being around other people with so many different dreams and aspirations, I started to wonder if I was selling myself short. Was I choosing this career path because I wanted to or because I felt like it was my only option? I began to explore.

After working a few sales jobs, I was fortunate to be hired for a remote position in Support at Apple. A few times a year I’d take rotations to explore and impact other areas of the line of business. As a veteran exploring corporate life for the first time, this rotational program was invaluable in helping me get exposure to different parts of the business and thus figure out where my passions lie. I firmly believe that a career in an impact driven tech company was the perfect place for me to land after the Marines — there are endless opportunities to learn and grow while surrounded by passionate people eager to make a difference in the world at large. While I appreciated the impact that Apple was making as a business, I wanted to move to a smaller company where I could see and measure my own personal impact.

Along came Handshake…

After a few years at Apple, a former colleague told me about the impactful, mission-driven work she was doing at a growing company called Handshake. Handshake’s mission is to democratize opportunity for students from all backgrounds and help them build a meaningful career.  Unheard of! If I’d had access to Handshake coming out of the military, I could have saved years of working jobs I had no interest in just to get by. I could have found a career that matched my interests and skill set. The value of Handshake blew me away.

Investing in the future

I’ll celebrate my 14-year wedding anniversary in January. Together, we have a 15-year-old high school teen who we adopted, and his future has never been more important. Not only do I work alongside a team where every day feels like I’m helping someone, but I’m also helping shape my child’s future career experience when he goes to college — and that feels really good. I’m proud to be a part of a team that values each individual employee and the perspective we bring to the company culture. Handshake’s value of “Move quickly, but don’t rush” could have been a Marine Corps slogan. I’ve clearly found my home.