One year ago, Silver ’08 was forced to resign from the University after failing two academic courses. The circumstances surrounding Silver’s departure, including his family’s financial situation and his active involvement in the University, led to a wide range of student protests. Now, one year later, Silver has returned to campus.
Last Wednesday, I sat down with Silver, who talked about his time away from Wesleyan, life as an intern in a Manhattan brokerage firm boiler room, and why he’s looking forward to watching others perform for a change. Excerpts from our conversation follow below.
Matt Connolly (MC): Looking back over the past year, if you had to summarize it with three different words, what would they be?
Silver (SV): Three different words. Definitely educational. Difficult. And…grateful. As far as explaining how I felt. I’m not sure if grateful describes the year itself, but…well, let’s go for another word. Great, in all regards. Just absolutely great. Phenomenal.
MC: I’m going to go back a bit. Last September, when you realized this year wasn’t going to be spent at Wesleyan, what were some of the thoughts running through your head?
SV: To tell you the truth, I think I went through some mild depression. It was really weird not being able to see my friends. We’d talk occasionally online or on the phone, but things were very different. They would be like, ‘Oh, I gotta go, I’m going to dinner at Wes Wings’ or whatever and I’d get all nostalgic and wish I was there. But then, that kind of went away pretty quickly. What didn’t go away was the difficulty of not being able to find a job and not being able to be in class. I was overwhelmed by boredom. That was kind of difficult. But I did manage to do a lot of reading.
MC: What was the job hunting process like in the fall?
SV: I was mainly looking for finance jobs, because I knew that’s where I wanted to go after graduation. I figured I’d get some sort of fall or spring internship now so it would look good on my resumé and maybe lead to a job offer after I graduate. So, I would just send out e-mails everyday and follow up every two weeks. I had my little calendar remind me…and it just alerted me to e-mail this person or call. So, I was looking for a finance job, but it’s so difficult because the practical skills they wanted, especially in Excel, we don’t really learn in the academic environment. So, I had to look at the job descriptions, go to Barnes and Noble or Borders, find an Excel book, learn what these people wanted, put in on my resume, and pray that it would give me a chance. And they did at one point.
MC: Do you feel like that’s something that Wesleyan should be teaching students?
SV: Actually, I had an idea when I came back to Wesleyan which I might try to pursue in the spring, not now because right now I have to worry about getting back in good standing and doing what I have to do. But, in the spring, I learned, because one of my employers was a Princeton undergraduate, and he told me that Princeton doesn’t have a practical finance major, only economics. But, they have a financial certificate. And now, I was thinking of proposing that to Wesleyan’s Economics department. You know, we have a Certificate in International Relations and other stuff like that. Why couldn’t we have a certificate in finance and accounting, where we can actually learn these practical skills that employees look for? One of the things I’ve learned is that we don’t get as many employees up here as do many schools in the city…One of the main reasons is that we don’t have those practical skills that everyone else does. As far as Baruch, and I can speak about Baruch because I went there in the spring, they would literally get Wall Street training, from a Wall Street student group that they had, that had amazing financial support from the school and outside.
MC: You said that, in your job search, someone finally said yes. Who said yes?
SV: You ever see the movie “Boiler Room?”
MC: No, but I’ve heard of it.
SV: Okay, I worked in a boiler room. It was First Republic, and, um, they’re horrible. They would have me come in everyday at seven, myself and the other interns included. They would give us a stipend of $1,000; no, less than $1,000 once every two weeks. The reason they do this is if you calculate it for hourly wage, it’s below minimum wage, which is against the law. But, they were able to get away with it because they said it was a stipend…So they had you work from seven o’ clock in the morning to six o’ clock at night. Eleven hour workday, no lunch. Literally, at my desk: chew, swallow, get back on the phone. And now, when I see ‘boiler room,’ there’s a whole bunch of brokers trying to sell stocks to people over the phone. They’re called a “boiler room” because they contact only old lawyers who were born before 1952, if I remember correctly, and we were instructed to literally say anything to the secretary to get through to the guy. We would say we were old friends, we were calling back, we had spoken before, anything we could to get to the lawyer…But I quit after two weeks. It was crazy. But that led to another brokerage firm on Wall Street. The hours were a bit more sane…But it was rough. I mean, I literally made 300 phone calls every single day, in the span of about five-and-a-half hours. About ninety-percent of those people said no, “f” off. I called one guy and I said, ‘Hey, I’ll be quick’ and he said, ‘I’ll be quicker.’ Click. [Laughs.] And my senior broker’s name was Mr. Happy, so you just had to have this positive, optimistic outlook and you’d literally be on the phone and you can’t get discouraged by people saying no. But, as far as on the phone, it’s crazy because even if someone said no, you’d just have to shrug it off and keep calling and keep going down that list. If you didn’t do your job, you were kicked out, and there were cameras everywhere. So when I wanted to take a little break, it was like, ‘no’….It was good though. I helped my senior broker earn $20,000 in three days, so I think I did okay.
MC: One of the reasons you were working so many jobs on campus was because of the financial situation at home. It seemed particularly troublesome because Wesleyan policy says you have to start paying back your debt when you’re on required resignation. That must have been very trying on you, having all these things coming together at once.
SV: Well, that’s another thing where I was trying to hustle really quickly for a job. But, as it turned out, once I got out there and I learned about all these different options about economic deferment from loans. If you’re not making enough or don’t have a job at all, you can actually defer for a year. I didn’t know that at the time when I got kicked out, and I was pretty much crapping my pants. I was scared. I started getting all these letters in the mail. I started calling them up, saying that I couldn’t make the payments. They told me that I could defer for now. I told them that I was going to be a part-time student in the spring and they said that also qualified for a deferment. And that was amazing. So, I got lucky. I got real lucky.
MC: What was it like living at home and being with your family through all this?
SV: It was a good thing, really. After three years at Wesleyan, I felt kind of removed. Wesleyan felt like home for me. But being back home with my mom and my brother, that feels like home, which I think is a good and right feeling to have. And I also was able to help my brother get into the first round of the Oliver program, which is a preparatory program like ABC and Prep for Prep where they prepare kids for private high schools…I just really want him to have a better education than I did, you know? If I was to remain on campus during that process, it would have been very different. I was able to go with him to the interviews, prep him beforehand, help him with the applications, get his confidence up. And so, I think me being back really helped with that. And also with my mom, because my mom had to get divorced, and the whole divorce thing. I was there as a confidant for her. We always kind of grew up just me and my mom. So, she has her sisters, my aunts, of course. But, she always felt comfortable talking to her son, obviously as mothers often do. That was pretty good. It helped bring back and repair the relationship between my mom and I which wasn’t falling apart, but we were definitely distant: me being in Connecticut, her being in New York. Not calling every day. Being home helped.
MC: What was your communication like between you and Wesleyan this past year, with friends and the school itself?
SV: With my friends, it was kind of constant, except it wasn’t. Unfortunately. A lot of people were like, ‘Hey, you disappeared, what’s going on?’ I tried to explain to them that I was so busy, like, I didn’t even have time to eat dinner without having a book at hand or something. I mean, there were times I wouldn’t even eat dinner, I would just go straight to bed. I was just way too tired. But they were understanding. That’s why we’re still friends now… As far as with the administration, I owe a lot to Dean Gates. She’s not here anymore but she was amazing. Any sort of question I had, I would e-mail her, and within a day she would get back to me. She would call me. She told me everything I had to do to get back to campus, because in the end, that’s what they wanted. They wanted me to come back to campus. They made me understand that I had to do what I had to do. She was amazing. Dean Cruz-Saco, also great. She was the former Dean of the College. She was definitely someone who was also supportive. She always sends her love, once in a while. I interacted more with Dean Gates, because she had been here before, and knew what I had to do and the deadlines. But Dean Cruz-Saco was just there as a great person to vent to. My advisor, John Bonin in the Economics Department: amazing. I owe him a lot, to tell you the truth. I am an Economics major because of him…He always believed in me, and we stayed in touch as well…And always admissions. Madeleine Duberek, she’s kind of like my mother on campus. She would hunt me down: through my friends, through whoever. She would be like, ‘Tell him to call me! Tell him to e-mail me!’ She’s amazing and I love her. And I owe them all a lot of thanks. And my friends too, you know? They were always there.
MC: Did you have any doubts about coming back to Wesleyan?
SV: Not over the summer, because I was too busy working. [Laughs.] But I did after my summer internships. Two days before coming back to Wesleyan, I was like, ‘Oh my God, do I really want to do this?’ When I got to the New Haven train station, I felt nauseous waiting for my ride. I felt weird coming back because Res Life threw me into 65 Pearl, a living situation with four other people who I didn’t know. And I’m really thankful for Andres Rosario ’08, who is my housemate now. He called me up and he was like, ‘Hey, I’m in a house, I know you’re coming back to campus. Do you want to live with me?’ I jumped at the opportunity. Andres was a life saver. And so, that kind of made it better. And that kind of calmed me for the night before, but once I got to New Haven, it was just like I was ready to turn around and just go right back home and finish my education, my undergrad education in New York. But then, five minutes later, Andres shows up and he’s like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ And at that point there’s no turning back. But, yeah, I felt really weird coming back in the beginning. It’s better now that everyone is back on campus and seeing familiar faces. But, in the beginning it was…I must say, I still get a little homesick. I feel like a freshman. I’m a senior but I feel like a freshman. That’s the only way to describe it.
MC: Before you left, you were involved in a lot of things on campus. What hasremained and what has had to be let go for now?
SV: To tell you the truth, coming back to campus, I told myself I’m not going to be a part of anything [Pause]. But that’s always a little harder to do when you’re back on campus. Before, I was just a really active member, and a leader in a sense, and holding officer roles with three different student groups: Tae Kwon Do, Caliente, the dance troupe, and Ajua Campos. But, to tell you the truth, all of these groups have amazing people who have stepped up. I mean, I’ve been gone for a year. A lot has changed. A lot of things I agree with, a lot of things I don’t agree with. Things evolve, things change, and you got to accept that. Coming back, I see these three different student groups are all in amazing hands. It’s kind of weird, I feel like they don’t really need me. But it’s a great feeling though, because that’s the way it should be.
MC: For your last year at Wesleyan, is there any particular goal you want to achieve this year?
SV: Ever since my freshman year, I was always involved, always performing. And I never got the chance to sit back and enjoy all the other performances and see everyone else on stage. Because, when you’re performing, you’re backstage and you never really get a chance to see the whole show. So, I missed that. I had that my pre-frosh weekend and never again after that. So, I’m really looking forward to sitting in Crowell or the ’92 Theater or whatever it may be and seeing the new talent that’s on campus. And also, I want to help, given that I was gone for a year, I want to bring that outside perspective in terms of how to go about doing interviews. The CRC does a great job preparing you. I’ll definitely go there before interviewing for jobs. I want to and need to. But that’s not offered for sophomores and juniors as much as it is for seniors. So, for those people and even for freshmen, I’d want to help and provide my, or at least talk about my experience …I don’t know, it’s something to think about. Something I might put into action.
MC: One last question. If you learned today that someone was going to be in the situation today that you were in a year ago, what would you say to them?
SV: That’s a hard one. To tell you the truth, the only thing I can say is what Dean Cruz-Saco told me a year ago: in order to help others you got to first help yourself. To tell you the truth, someone in that situation wouldn’t want to listen to anything I had to say. I know I didn’t when people offered their advice. I was like, ‘No, I want to stay. End of story.’ So, I don’t think there’s too much you can say except return. Come back. It’s going to be a difficult year, but just keep your head high and remember, at the end of the day, that the goal is to come back, and not get caught up in everything in between. It’s a lot. You can just say that you’re going to work, and that’s it. And yeah, that’s nice. You make good money. But is that really it and you’d want to cap yourself at that? And also, it might be different, because when I left, I was going to be a senior. But, if you’re at least a junior and above, really think about coming back. You’ve invested so much time, you know? But other than that, there’s nothing I can say, because the experience itself is enough. When you’re leaving, that’s not what you want to hear. It’s like when you’re angry. There’s nothing that can make you feel better except time.