Hi. My name is Ani Popp, and I am a proud Warnellian. In May, I graduated from the finest institution and professional program in the nation (that would be the University of Georgia and the Daniel B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, just in case that was not clear to anyone…). And now that I am the grateful owner of a diploma with my name on it, I have a confession to make.
It was April, the last full month of my collegiate career, and things were in full swing. The Wildlife Society team had just won conclave, senior theses were frantically being written and revised, clubs were having their final meetings, and I was leading the countdown to graduation. I could not have been more excited to finish my degree, get out there, and show the world how I was going to revolutionize the field of wildlife management.
But I was also scared out of my mind. The thought of graduating was secretly petrifying. Don’t get me wrong—I really was beyond excited to discover what the term “college graduate” meant. I was looking forward to being done with tests, papers, and projects, to actually get to practice what I had learned over the past four years. I had a plan: take a year, work some tech jobs, get some experience, and apply for a graduate assistantship. But I was still terrified.
The post-grad world seemed like a long, dark tunnel, full of fellow graduates vying for the same jobs and assistantships, potential employers assessing my qualifications (Pick me! I know things! Fish are cool!*), and grown-up things like bills and taxes. And at the moment, I didn’t at all prepared to face it. In fact, I had a little bit of a breakdown. I didn’t feel eligible for any job or assistantship, I was never going to finish my senior thesis, and after some careful calculations I came to the realization that I basically knew nothing. I might as well just move into my parent’s basement now, to save myself the trouble of trying.
This brief session of emotional distress did not come from any lack of support or affirmation. My professors were letting me list them as references, my parents were telling all their friends how their daughter was going to save the polar bears (Solution: stop driving cars. Can I have my MS now?), and my friends, in true Warnell form, were wonderful. No, it was just the typical, oh-my-goodness-you-mean-this-doesn’t-last-forever-and-I-have-to-live-in-the-real-world jitters.
I don’t know when exactly it was, the moment when I realized my fears were maybe a little irrational. Maybe it was in my Conservation Aquaculture class, when I turned in my last lab report. Maybe it was at the last Wildlife Society meeting of the year, surrounded by my peers. It might have been walking out of Building 1 for the last time as an undergraduate. Whenever that moment was, it was when I realized I wasn’t a hopeless case. Yes, post-graduation life was not going to be a walk in the park, but it couldn’t possibly be something I couldn’t handle. You see, I had spent the last two years of my life in a place perfectly designed to equip me with what I need to succeed.
Confession: I don’t know everything—far from it, actually. That diploma comes with no extra knowledge. But Warnell has taught me how to ask the kinds of questions to figure out what I need to know, how to learn it, and how to think critically and apply what I have learned. The mentorship of my professors, the information taught in class, the extracurricular activities offered—all of these have given me the tools to tackle whatever comes my way, including a flashlight for that long, dark, non-existent tunnel.
Spoiler alert: two months into graduated life, and I have yet to find even the entrance to that tunnel. I am gainfully employed with the GADNR, and I am beyond ecstatic to begin talking to professors about potential graduate projects. College was great, “real life” ain’t bad.
*Fish are, in fact, the coolest group of vertebrates on the planet. True fact.