By JOHN HACKETT
NANJING — On a chilly morning in late March, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center woke up and wiped the sleep out of its eyes, climbed out of bed, and put on its favorite suit. And then the sun came up. After a long bus journey from Nanjing to Shanghai, the day many Center students waited for all year commenced. Career Day is an important HNC tradition that has brought alumni and current students together for much of the Center’s 30-year history. For the administration, Career Day serves as a source of great pride. For alumni, it is a chance to catch up with friends, meet current students, and reminisce nostalgically about their time at the HNC. For students, Career Day represents the uncertainty and exciting possibilities of the future. These dynamics made for a special day that paved the way for new friendships and opportunities for everyone involved.
Joseph Tse, Managing Partner for Tax at Career Day sponsor Deloitte China, kick-started the day with a heartfelt speech that drew on his personal experiences to demonstrate the difficulties of making a decision at an impasse. His relatable and understanding point of view set the tone for our many panelists, who candidly revealed their experiences and advice about working in China.
Following lunch, students made their way to various meeting rooms in the Marriott City Center Shanghai to attend the first of three panel sessions. Each session consisted of four different panels, and throughout the day, panelists and students discussed topics ranging from non-profit and government work to financial services and entrepreneurship. Hugh Sullivan, Associate Director of Development for Johns Hopkins SAIS, reflected on the factors that continue to bring high quality panelists to the HNC Career Day year after year: “I’m always amazed with alumni turnout. This year we have over 50 panelists, not all alumni, but all people who support the Center and believe in the HNC.” That confidence in the quality of an HNC experience has never been more evident than now, heading into the institution’s 30th anniversary, which occurs in June. Bryan Withall, HNC 2004 alumnus and CEO and founder of investment firm Sino Outbound, finds time for Career Day every year because he finds it refreshing to meet the students. Bryan pointed out that he is “always pleasantly surprised with the diversity and level of students’ questions.” International companies find real value in HNC students’ unique perspective on U.S.-Sino relations and prove it by consistently hiring fresh graduates year in and year out.
However, students do not attend Career Day with the expectation of leaving with a job offer. The value for most students comes not in the form of immediate results but rather long-term relationships and good, honest advice. Christopher Scott, second year MAIS student, considers it “helpful when you’re uncertain about what to do next in your life to consult with people who can reflect on that time in their lives. Because of the size of the panels, the advice was personalized and particularly insightful.” This helpful environment lingered all day through the panels and into the reception. Over every business card exchanged hung words of wisdom from people who got past this exact same uncertainty not so long ago in their own lives. With every handshake came a useful story or market insight. Robert Shields, HNC’s tireless career counselor, also believes strongly in the value of the friendships formed at Career Day. “Career Day is a great opportunity for current students to hear the insight and experience of alumni and non-alumni of HNC representing different companies,” he said, “but perhaps the best part is the relationships that are built.”
The momentum of those relationships did not take long to gain traction, as was evidenced by the good times had by all at the official after-party organized by the Hopkins Alumni Network in Shanghai. Throughout the night one could hear toasts to new friendships and even business relationships followed by gan bei! (cheers!). As the sun set on a long and exhausting day, one could not help but feel exhilarated by the day’s events and optimistic about what the future holds.