A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Graduation day marks transition from higher ed. to hire education

Saturday is commencement day at Murray State University. Approximately 730 graduates, decked out in blue and gold, will receive diplomas. As each one walks across the stage, arm extended for the farewell handshake, it might be assumed that their focus is shifting from higher education to getting hired, earning a living, and making a life.

At the same time diplomas are being distributed on campus, Breanna Morales and her husband, Enrique Morales Cano are likely to be too busy to reflect on graduation rituals. They will be working at their restaurant across campus, Willow Bistro. Together, they will be preparing a variety of dishes — ranging from gyros, authentic Mexican food, warming curries, and comforting American fare – for the families and friends who will gather there to celebrate the milestone of graduation.

When Breanna looks back on her college graduation, she remembers uncertainty about the future. A Murray native, graduate of Murray High, and then MSU, she started college in Pre-Med. A year later, she switched to Chemistry with a minor in Math but really had no clear plan about what she wanted.

Right after graduation, she stayed close to home, coached volleyball at Murray High School, and saved her money. Her goals were unclear, but she remembers wanting “to do something exciting.” Her sister already lived in Manhattan, so Breanna had a place to stay there. If she was careful with her savings, she could take some time to explore the city and figure out what’s next.

Graduate school was an option, so she took the Graduate Record Exam, but admits, “I just did it because of my parents.” Teaching was another possibility, but not one that appealed to her. She was only 22 at the time and felt a little overwhelmed. “There was a lot to figure out,” she says.

The money she’d saved served her well for a few months in New York, but by January she needed to get a job. Hired at Dig Inn, a restaurant that specialized in fresh made, farm-sourced seasonal fare, she became a manager in a short time. She recalls that her strengths were her reliability and attention to detail. “And I never missed a day,” she adds.

A co-worker, Enrique, became a friend, and then husband. With the birth of their son, Oliver, the couple began to view their life together through a different lens. The expense of living in a cramped Manhattan apartment led to their move to the Bronx. Breanna remembers the conversations she and Quique had that year.

“Is this where we want to be?” they wondered. “Where do we want our son to grow up?”

“We were so far away,” Breanna says. “My Mom was sad that we were twenty hours away.”

The dream of owning a restaurant seemed sensible. “That’s what we knew,” Breanna says. So when the owners of Gloria’s World Kitchen, an international grocery and eatery in Murray, were retiring, the dream of a restaurant began to take shape.

As of January 1, Breanna and Quique will have owned the restaurant – renamed Willow Bistro – for four-and-a-half years. Little Oliver has a front yard, a backyard, his own bedroom, and a hometown. His enterprising parents are local entrepreneurs.

“Being restaurant owners is time-consuming,” Breanna admits, but the couple finds great satisfaction in providing a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. “We have regular customers and newcomers all the time,” she remarks.

“For the regulars,” she says, “we know their favorite table, what they like to drink, whether they like onions or not. And our dishes are consistent,” she says, since they do all the cooking.

As she reflects on graduation and the pressures on soon-to-be grads, Breanna hopes that, when the time comes, she will be able to give her son good advice and encouragement. “I’d tell him that it’s perfectly fine if you don’t know what you want to do. Travel, have different experiences. It will happen when it’s time.”

For an article about the 5 best tips for college graduates, visit www.forbes.com

Willow Bistro is located at 124 N. 15th St. in Murray. The phone is 270-759-3233. More information is available at www.thewillowbistro.com.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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