Don’t Fear the Gap Year

Senior Maddie Kauffman Tells Us Why

What []_[] Want | Dhali Wama | April 5, 2016

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I waited outside the UM Law Library to interview Maddie Kaufman—an interview that sat idly on my brain’s back burner as I hit submit on another low-paying entry-level job application.

Open iCal. 32 days until graduation. It starts to rain. Never mind that that’s not rain, that’s my body sopping wet with anxiety…I guess some might call it “sweat”. Open Facebook. Casey just accepted a job Morgan Stanley!!! ~feeling excited~ I’m only seconds away from throwing my useless, unemployed body into the courtyard fountain when Kaufman walks my direction, smiling.

The interview that follows is what keeps my very existence from imploding, I now realize.

Name: Maddie Kaufman

Age: 21

Major: Marine Science and Biology


DHALI: When did you decide to take a gap year?

KAUF: I’ve kind of always known that I didn’t want to jump into anything right after graduation for a while. The longer you wait to decide, the more unrealistic it can be to travel.

Oh God, even she’s had a plan for a while.

My “plan” consists of crying myself to sleep each night in my childhood bedroom until I accept life’s harsh defeat, or a hostess job at the Olive Garden—which, are two things that are actually the same. 

DHALI: Why are you taking a gap year?

KAUF: I eventually do want to go to grad school because in my major you kind of have to; you need that level of education to be considered for a lot of jobs in the field. But I don’t know what I want to focus on in grad school so I’m really hoping to figure that out during my gap year…or two…or five…I don’t know haha.

Did she just say ‘I don’t know’? Did my chest just untighten? God bless.

Realistically I think I need to get a job in my field that isn’t something I would necessarily love to do—might involve some bitch work—to make enough money to then go on to do a scuba or dive master internship because that’s going to be a lot of money.

DHALI: Is there anyone who influenced you positively or negatively towards the idea of a gap year?

KAUF: There’s a girl who went on the same Galapagos abroad program as me who worked doing botany research for a few months after graduation. Kind of boring stuff but it helped her make enough money to go to Africa for an internship doing primate censuses in the jungle. After that, she used the rest of the money to do a dive master internship in Honduras. So something like that would be awesome.

I also have a friend who got a job with a company after graduation, but I can just tell he’s not really about it. So he’s kind of reminding me that I don’t want to take a job just for the sake of taking a job.

It’s like God himself has just sucked the sweat droplets from my body with a straw with each of Maddie’s reassuring words. I suddenly want to skip the rest of today’s plans to write cover letters and take off my bra. 

DHAL: Do you know what your plans are after the gap year?

KAUF: I’m definitely leaning towards taking 2 years: make money for a year, use that money to travel, and then go to grad school.

A “plan” that doesn’t involve jumping into a misery-filled job, but also is dependent on her parent’s dime? We really can have it all?!

DHALI: Why do you think it’s important to take this time to not accept a long-term job or go to grad school?

KAUF: Going into a job or school is going to be like a two to four year commitment—maybe even more. Then we’ll be what? 26 years-old? Our friends are going to be getting married by then.

Married? I silently play it cool as my throat closes up. I want to hurl my useless, commitment-phobic body into the fountain once more.

KAUF: The time is now. Obviously the older you are, the closer you’re getting to settling down. When I settle down I want to be around my family but I don’t want to be literally across across the globe from them, so it’s now or never. I think traveling also helps you figure out so much about what you want to do in the future, so it’s better to figure it out now rather than later.

I think about it. I envision my 80-year-old workaholic-self finally ready to “travel the world” and “see the sights”. She breaks a hip boarding the plane. I think Kaufman is onto something. 

DHALI: Do you have any advice for someone who might be considering the post-grad route of a gap year?

KAUF: If you’re considering it, then you should just f*cking do it. Because if you don’t do it, I think its something you’ll regret for a while. You can get so much out of it and you have the free time now.

I am so inspired that I actually consider removing my bra right then and there. But no, it’s not time. Wait, Madie. You’ll be home soon. 

DHALI: Any closing comments?

KAUF: I just hope that I get an awesome job in a cool place. I feel like you just have to just make it happen. There are so many opportunities out there—you can’t be scared. Just go do it.

A single tear trickles down my cheek (not really, because my body is so dehydrated from the day’s earlier sweating episode, but truly I want to).

Kaufman’s bubbly presence disappears back into the Law Library, but not before she tells me she plans to enjoy the beautiful day and go fishing once her work is done. She has no idea the effect she has had on my abnormal physiological reactions to graduation. There is an immense amount of pressure for students to find a job or go back to school right after graduation, but it is rare for graduates to take their time and test the waters.

Why rush into something if you’re not completely sure it’s your passion? Why go to school right now if you’re not completely sure of a focus? Why pay rent when your parents probably won’t turn your room into a home gym/meditation sauna for another two years? These are the important questions I ask myself as I consider the bra-less appeals to living in an Amazonian treehouse for a year.