20th Annual Beyond the Gates: Coming Full Circle

If three occurrences makes a tradition, then Beyond the Gates: Preparing for Life and Work After Sewanee has long since fit the bill and taken its place among the great Sewanee events. When the doors open for this year’s edition on Jan. 12, the program will celebrate a landmark anniversary—its 20th.

Originally developed in 2005 at the behest of the then Dean of Students Rob Pearigen, the Beyond the Gates program has annually brought together students, parents, and alumni for a meaningful look ahead at life after Sewanee. During this year’s two-day event, student participants will develop career-readiness through panels, practice interviews, networking conversations, and hearing from graduates from a variety of backgrounds.

Associate Dean for Career Readiness and Student Success Kim Heitzenrater has been involved with the program since the beginning, giving her a front row seat to witness its evolution over the years. “We learned a lot that first year, and continued to improve the program until it reached its current framework,” says Heitzenrater. 

Sometimes, changes came in response to global events (e.g., 2021’s virtual edition due the COVID-19 pandemic). More often, though, new content has been added in response to emerging trends that students need to know about the world of work—for instance, the recent addition of a session on navigating a remote workplace.

Over its 20 years of existence, more than 1,600 individual students have participated in Beyond the Gates alongside nearly 400 alumni and Sewanee parents. Many of the returning alumni also attended the event as undergraduates, lending the program a distinct sense of community and circularity. As familiar faces return to the mountain each January for Beyond the Gates, they do more than network with current juniors and seniors and educate them about their upcoming internship and job searches—they also demonstrate the lifelong commitment Sewanee alumni make to give back to the next generations of students.

For that reason, it was especially important to the Career Readiness team to invite participants from the first ever Beyond the Gates to return for its 20th edition. This year’s keynote speaker is Vishal Nehru, C’06, director of strategy and planning at Cisco and a participant in the maiden voyage of Beyond the Gates in 2005. And in a bit of fortuitous timing, the milestone 20th anniversary of Beyond the Gates also coincides with the return of one particularly familiar face to Sewanee—that of Vice-Chancellor Rob Pearigen, who was instrumental in the program’s inception.

As enthusiastic about this year’s program as she was for its first, Heitzenrater looks forward to seeing how the event will continue to grow and adapt to meet students’ needs as they prepare to enter the ever-evolving world of the workplace. To do so, the team will count on the continued support of alumni and parents who care deeply about students’ future success. 

“Every year, alumni and parent participants remark how impressive the students are, and students share how helpful, caring, and kind the alumni are,” says Heitzenrater. “The event knits the Sewanee family together in a virtuous circle that has sustained the event for 20 years and that will ensure it continues long into the future.”