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The coronavirus pandemic derailed her 'dream job' but this college grad found an amazing experience — jumping in a lake

CNBC's "College Voices 2020" is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about coming of age, getting their college education and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Nicole Dienst is a student at Colgate University, with a double major in environmental economics and English literature. Here is her story about Emily McCarthy, a recent Boston College graduate, and her job search amid the coronavirus pandemic. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.

Emily McCarthy celebrated her college graduation at home with family and close friends after being sent home from Boston College in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Abigail Duvall

For college graduates in the Class of 2020, many have found themselves in positions they didn't expect or simply lack the dream opportunity they once envisioned having post-graduation. Of course, landing the "dream job" right out of college is not commonplace — but even more so in a pandemic when layoffs are still happening and many companies are reluctant to hire.

That's why Emily McCarthy, a Boston College 2020 graduate, jumped in a lake.

Prior to the pandemic, McCarthy had planned on conducting service work in Spanish-speaking countries to teach local underprivileged women English to assist with their immigration applications. Being a Spanish minor at BC, she had previously utilized her Spanish language skills to teach local immigrants English in her spare time.

"I knew that before I entered the workplace I wanted to serve some type of community somewhere, and figured I'd make myself fluent to better both myself and a community," McCarthy added.

But like so many other students fresh out of college in the year 2020, the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on McCarthy's life, too — her school closed down due to the pandemic in the middle of her senior year and she was sent home. The pandemic put her volunteer work on hold for the foreseeable future, leaving her without a designated plan when graduation came around in late May. 

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"That feeling of having closure … I just have that feeling of not being able to move on. I felt ready for a new part of my life, new challenges, new cities, new people and then unfortunately disaster struck and it diverted me back to this state of not being ready to move on," said McCarthy.

Despite being sent home, McCarthy remained proactive to figure out her post-graduation plan, networking with fellow classmates, Boston College alumni, and mutual connections. In addition to networking, McCarthy sent her resume to a variety of companies in different industries, even though she hopes to do service work.

She eventually found out about a short-term opportunity with the Highlands Glacial Lakes Initiative (, working on a project to remove an invasive species, Eurasian Water Milfoil, from local lakes. Milfoil is an aquatic plant that grows in thick mats of tangled stems that then crowd out natural species. In order to avoid using herbicides, Higlin sends in dive teams to remove it by hand, thereby ensuring that all the roots come out. McCarthy was part of a dive team sent in to Green Pond in New Jersey to remove it.

McCarthy never expected her first job out of college to be cleaning up a lake, but she said she was grateful to have the chance to positively contribute during this immensely difficult time and the job contributed greatly to her personal development.

"Although I'm no biologist and a science path was the last path I thought I'd go down, the job has definitely taken the form of service in some type … I think one of the pulls of me 'serving' a community was to meet new people, and see the world from a different viewpoint and although I'm still in New Jersey and still living at home, the combination of doing something beneficial for the environment and those who also live on this lake as well as meeting and talking and learning from these brilliant men has allowed me to feel as though I'm benefiting greatly from this job even if it's what I never ever thought I would end up doing," McCarthy said. "I love the feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day when community members will thank me and the team for what we're doing."

Many of McCarthy's fellow graduates and close friends are in similar positions — holding down short-term employment until a full-time opportunity comes around, living at home, or simply spending their days applying to a range of different jobs. "All my friends are still living at home whether that be because of jobs being work from home and wanting to save money before moving into an apartment or just simply because more space and saving money from living at home, or they just don't have jobs," she said.

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After completing the work on Green Pond, McCarthy went to Seattle to spend time with family, devote time to her writing and think about what she wants the rest of her year to look like.

"I don't necessarily see myself going into a similar field, but the experience itself was just so unbelievably fun and amazing," McCarthy said. "This was an amazing reminder that there is so much to learn about and intelligence and success isn't always measured in banking jobs or living in NYC, it can be learning so much about a place that I love and treating the environment with the respect it deserves and being able to meet and share such a deep meaningful experience with some amazing people along the way."

She still hopes to go to Boston but after this experience, she realized she doesn't have to be in a hurry to get there.

" I really think the dive team helped me understand that I'll probably work the rest of my life and there's really no reason to jump into a position that I don't fully want because there are so many other experiences for me to have and people to meet and it could literally be at my back door like it was for the dive team," McCarthy said.

It's an important lesson for us all: Keep an open mind. Take opportunities that seem interesting, even if they aren't your "dream job." And, you never know when one of these experiences could change your perspective — or your future.

The mission: Remove milfoil, an invasive species, from Green Pond Lake in New Jersey

The Highlands Glacial Lakes Initiative launched a mission to remove European Water Milfoil from Green Pond Lake in New Jersey to make it safe for native species – and recreation.
Source: Gary Franco
An aerial view of Green Pond Lake shows the damage and contamination milfoil has created, turning the lake a green color and making it uninhabitable for native species -- and swimmers.
Source: Gary Franco
Emily McCarthy navigating a boat in search of milfoil hotspots at Green Pond Lake.
Source: Gary Franco
Emily McCarthy at her summer job working to decontaminate Green Pond Lake in Morris County, N.J., to make it safe for swimming and public use.
Gary Franco
Milfoil is manually extracted during an underwater dive at Green Pond Lake.
Source: Gary Franco
Bags of milfoil and weeds collected by the team at Green Pond Lake.
Source: Gary Franco
Emily McCarthy and team members at Higlin celebrating the reduction of milfoil at Green Pond Lake.
Source: Gary Franco