School’s out, time to get to work! From internships to ice cream-scooping, summer jobs have the power to influence professional paths and provide lasting memories. We asked several alums what they remember most from their first summer gigs.
Former sportswriter for The New York Times and author of 20 books
Sixty-six years ago, at the age of 14, I lied about my age to get my first summer job — mowing the lawn and maintaining the grounds of a nasty old man’s summer home in Monroe, N.Y., for 50 cents an hour. It remains the worst and most important job I ever held. He was a hectoring, bullying employer, but I stayed with it as a pre-manhood test. As a writerly fat boy, I must have sensed I needed some trial by fire. By the time I returned to high school in the fall, I was about 40 pounds lighter and filled with overweening confidence. That job also informed my career: In 1977, I published a Young Adult novel, One Fat Summer, that in 2018 was turned into a film, Measure of a Man, starring Donald Sutherland as a romanticized version of that first summer boss. I have always gotten psychic strength from that first job, for freshman year on Morningside Heights, Army basic training and all the knockdown drag-outs of life.
I was an assistant to an assistant at a small veterinary hospital. I swept and cleaned up and looked after lonely animals in small cages, including a cat who was, I think, a lifer, having been consigned there by its deceased owner, who’d left funds for the animal’s medical care in perpetuity. At least that was the story. After that it was libraries for me!
What I remember most about my first summer journalism job was how I got it. It was winter vacation of my first year at the College, and I was working at McDonald’s in my hometown of Needham, Mass. I wanted to be an intern at the Needham Times. I cold-called the editor-in-chief, and she said no. Then I just walked into her office — it was down the street from the McDonald’s — and handed her my clips from Spectator. She said no. I had a few days left of vacation before I returned to New York, so I visited her a second time. This time she said yes. She said she always did that with job applicants — said no before she said yes — because tenacity is an important trait for journalists. She was right!
Author of eight books, including Little Sid: The Prince Who Became a Buddha and One Day a Dot: The Story of You, The Universe and Everything
My first summer job was in a factory, opening cardboard boxes and shipping products. I made minimum wage, and required first aid several times. The man who worked next to me had just gotten out of jail for stabbing someone in a bar fight.
Halfway through the summer, my dad asked me how the job was going. “Terrible,” I told him.
“Good,” he said. He’d worked in a factory for over a decade of his life. “Now you’ll appreciate any other job you get because you’ll know it’s not in a factory.”
Host/Producer, WBUR’s Circle Round podcast; Partner, Sheir & Shim audio production
My first summer job was at a TCBY (“The Country’s Best Yogurt”) in the suburbs of Cleveland. It was the mid-1990s: the first time frozen yogurt was trendy (or, dare I say, the first time it was à la mode?). What I remember most about this gig were the smells. The most pleasant came at the start of my shift, as I baked a massive batch of sugary, buttery waffle cones. I know they tell you to throw bread or cookie dough into the oven if you want to sell a house, but they’re wrong; before you put your place on the market, you need to invest in a jumbo bucket of waffle cone mix and an industrial-sized waffle iron. Of course, on the flip side, I keenly recall the less-than-pleasant smells. If you’ve ever disinfected a strawberry-banana-swirl soft-serve machine after a long, humid day, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
My first summer job was pumping gas at a full-service Getty station in Londonderry, N.H. I could never seem to figure out how to pull the darned gas nozzle out of a customer’s car without spilling a few drops on my feet. So my most prominent memory of the summer was shoes that smelled like gasoline!
My first summer job during college, the summer after my freshman year, was an editorial internship at The New Yorker. I remember feeling electrified that a prominent magazine wanted me. That internship, which ended up lasting three summers, exposed me to the digitization of the publishing world. My takeaway was that in order to have a successful career in media, I would need to learn technical skills. That learning guided me toward my post-college job at The Huffington Post, and then to co-founding my digital media company, Slant. Today, as chief marketing officer of the leading blockchain technology company, ConsenSys, blending storytelling with technical savvy is still my bread and butter.