After a transfer to New London, a Massachusetts transplant finds a home in Connecticut
It was a humbling experience that brought Amanda Klay to Connecticut.
When she was growing up in a small town in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, Klay's dream school was George Washington University. Her mind was absolutely set on it.
She applied for early admission and was going to study international relations in Washington, D.C. She never even considered another school and the day she was accepted, she was over the moon.
But then Klay got there, and she had never been more miserable.
"I felt the world was my oyster, I had everything going for me and to fall emotionally as much as I did that semester, I just remember feeling like a total failure," said Klay, who's now 26. "It was more than anything just the wrong place at the wrong time. It was too big, too soon."
So she made a left turn and transferred to Connecticut College in New London during the spring semester of 2010. And she hasn't left Connecticut since.
A sense of community
Klay's "sleepy New England" hometown of Great Barrington wasn't even on most maps when she was growing up, and her high school graduating class had around 50 students. But it was the type of place where parents felt comfortable letting their kids go out on their own and everybody knew everybody. It was a place with a strong sense of community.
A similar sense of community was a big part of what endeared New London and Connecticut College to Klay and interested her in staying after graduation.
When she toured the school before enrolling, she liked the people she met and loved that that the school had equally strong government and international programs.
Klay interned with a microfinance organization in Peru during the summer before her senior year and was thinking she'd join a spinoff group the leadership team was founding. But as graduation drew near, a few key pieces hadn't quite lined up, and one of her mentors who worked in admissions encouraged her to apply for a position at Higher Edge.
Higher Edge is an organization in New London that specializes in helping guide low-income and first-generation students through enrollment, retention and graduation from college.
So she applied, and then at an immigration reform rally Klay connected with Chris Soto, one of the founders of the organization who later would become a state representative. They hit it off and when Klay officially decided she wasn't going to Peru, she accepted a position as a program coordinator at Higher Edge.
"A lot of the core reasons I was really attracted to the role in Peru were both present in New London and Higher Edge," Klay said. "I was really interested in equity, human rights, and education has always been important to me."
"I think I spoke just as much Spanish as English at Higher Edge," she added.
Klay loved her work at Higher Edge and living in New London, so much so that she considers it a second home. She's particularly fond of the diversity the city offers and the strong sense of community she felt there.
"New London is a shining example of a place with such strong community support," Klay said. "There are a lot of smart people who are working toward community change."
Leaving New London
But as much as Klay loved New London and Higher Edge, just over a year ago she decided it was time to move on and she accepted a position as program coordinator at the Yale School of Management in New Haven.
She said it was an agonizing decision because she felt she had grown so much at Higher Edge and was so respected. Watching her former students continue to thrive remains a big source of pride and inspiration for Klay.
However, she felt she needed to explore something else, both a new place and somewhat different work.
Her current job has her working more in the development office rather than directly with students. And although it was a difficult transition to start, she enjoys the work and her colleagues. She also feels fortunate to be a part of a community that is loaded with opportunities and is so intellectually stimulating.
Still, Klay views her job as just that: a job, not a career. Like many millennials, she anticipates she'll probably work several different jobs, quite possibly in a variety of different fields.
"I don't think this is my career path in the long run," Klay said. "I'm not sure exactly what the next step is or when."
Whatever the next career step is, though, Klay remains confident that it will include some aspect of giving back.
"I've always known from very early on that I am my best when helping others," she said. "Giving back has always been very important to me, being connected to something larger than myself."
Klay credits this drive to her parents. Her mother, who is now retired, was a nurse practitioner with a serious work ethic and a big heart. Her father, who died when she was 13, was a psychologist and a bit of an activist.
She also said that her growing up so comfortably with parents who were open about discussing justice, equality and equity, and the difference between the three, helped instill in her a desire to work with populations who were less fortunate.
"Outside of being a man, I carry pretty much every other privilege," Klay said. "I'm a U.S. citizen, English is my first language, I'm white, I had parents that provided a really stable home.
"I didn't lack any core piece that any child should have growing up and that is not the case for many families and children growing up in the country and beyond," she said.
Being a millennial
Millennial isn't a term that bothers Klay. She said she obviously belongs to the group, although she's not a fan of some of the negative connotations the group gets pegged with.
"The same negative characteristics pegged to millennials apply to all generations," she said. "I think every generation has its own mix."
But she's also cognizant of many of the challenges millennials face and the growing trends.
She hopes one day to be a homeowner, although right now she rents in New Haven with a friend. They occasionally have talked about the possibility of buying a house.
Klay also would like one day to have a family but recognizes a lot of challenges that exist in pursuing that. She wants to have a career, financial stability and the right partner before settling down. She doesn't feel that challenge is necessarily unique to millennial women, however.
And in regard to millennials having an increased interest in activism, she believes her interest in activism isn't necessarily because she's a millennial.
"I don't think that is part of my identity because I was a millennial," Klay said. "I was raised that way."
"I think that is just a human obligation, we all have an obligation to do our part," she added.
But as she looks forward, she doesn't seem to think she'll be another case of Connecticut millennial flight.
Although she's thinking about graduate school, which could take her out of state, when she looks to the future, Connecticut factors into her plans.
"I almost feel the way about New Haven now that I felt about New London," Klay said. "There is so much going for it as a city and what I think about as a home base and place for settling down."
"I'm not closed off to leaving the area, but it feels like home to me for the foreseeable future," she said.
Millennials in Connecticut
Millennials — those between 20 and 36 as of this year — represent the largest population group in Connecticut, at more than 927,000. But the group is shrinking. From 2010 to 2016, Connecticut lost 0.6 percent of its millennial population, a migration rate higher than all but 13 states, according to the U.S. Census.
In 2014, more than 17,000, or 7 percent, of young adults in the 20-24 age group moved out of Connecticut, according to the Census.
A lack of a hip urban center and the social life it offers, and a dearth of good-paying jobs, particularly in technology, are often cited as the reasons. Some just don't like snow and cold.
Others, though, have decided to stay in Connecticut or relocate here. This week, The Day is profiling seven millennials who are drawn by the area's diversity, small-town feel, activism, creative energy and noncorporate job opportunities.
Read other articles in the series at www.theday.com/2017millennials.
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