Last month, Brown University said goodbye to the class of 2014 as the eager, enthusiastic graduates accepted their diplomas and readied themselves to enter the infamous “real world.” These former students will scatter across the globe in search of their next step, whether it be finding suitable employment right here in Providence or exploring an unfamiliar city in an entirely different continent.
Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale, both members of Brown’s class of 2007, remember this stage of life all too well. It was at this point in their own lives that these best friends made a pact to write, as Jess herself describes, “no-holds-barred, honest emails” to each other on a biweekly basis. They stayed true to their promise for the years that followed, despite the fact that Rachel relocated to New York City in hopes of entering the metropolitan art scene while Jess hopped on a plane to Beijing in pursuit of a career in journalism. By the time that both graduates found themselves living in London about five years later, they had inboxes filled with hilarious, authentic, and heartwarming correspondences.
Together, they decided to compile these emails into a novel, which was released on May 6th and has since been cited in popular publications such as Cosmo and The Huffington Post. Entitled Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults, the book is a delightful recount of the authors’ journeys through the complicated, uncertain period that inevitably follows college graduation. The language of the novel is so genuinely entertaining, shifting seamlessly between quick, clever humor and eloquent storytelling, and the anecdotes that the young women narrate are simultaneously inspirational and relatable. A wonderful read for both recent graduates and seasoned alumni, the book is effectively impossible to put down.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the young writers as they returned to Brown for Alumni Weekend. Rachel and Jess are just as witty and pleasant as they appear in their work (if not more!), and chatting with them about their experiences felt less like a scheduled interview and more like meeting up with two old acquaintances for coffee.
We first discussed how the book came to life as it evolved from a series of emails to a full-fledged novel. According to Jess, the project started out as something to do simply for themselves or perhaps someday for their future kids, but before long the authors decided that it was the type of literature that they would have liked to read when they were about to enter the post-college world. Rachel claims that “there are so few books about what happens after you graduate,” and Graduates in Wonderland offers firsthand insight into dealing with such a tumultuous time. It was also an important piece of their friendship that Jess and Rachel wanted to share. “It’s very meaningful for us to just have this out there for the rest of our lives,” Rachel continued, “As Jess was saying, we’re now contractually bound to be friends.”
Both Jess and Rachel had plenty of advice to offer the class of 2014. Upon asking them what specifically they had learned at Brown that helped them navigate through their adventures, Rachel assured that while the sentiment is somewhat cliché, Brown truly does provide its students with a way of thinking that fosters a sense of openness and confidence that she found incredibly useful when navigating new territory. Meanwhile, Jess claimed that Brown opened her eyes to how truly large the world is. “Don’t limit yourself to what you think you have to do,” she advised, “expand what you think is possible.” In addition, Jess recommended “meet[ing] as many people as you can and tak[ing] away whatever you can,” as society has a lot to offer to a young individual searching for his or her place.
We also spoke about their status as women in the modern world and what exactly this means to them. “At college, we were taught to be strong, and that we can do whatever we want, and that helped a lot,” Rachel told me. They agreed that having dynamic female influences in their lives, both at home and in the workplace, bred a unique self-assurance.
Graduates in Wonderland is a marvelous book. In less than 300 pages, Jess and Rachel managed to make me both laugh out loud and contemplate my own perspective on life after college. The novel is a perfect gift for a new graduate or an excellent read for anyone looking to get lost in the adventures of two worldly, courageous Brown alumni.
In reference to her relationship with Jess (right), Rachel (left) said, “it sounds like [we’re] an old married couple, but we just love to make each other laugh.” With Graduates In Wonderland, these two writers brilliantly inspire readers to laugh along with them.
Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Graduates-Wonderland-International-Misadventures-Almost/dp/1592408605/ref=tmm_pap_title_0