Snippets of Optimism Among Harvard Alums

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Is the turnaround at hand? On my way to work this morning, I witnessed the latest in a flurry of hopeful signs.

About 25 Harvard University graduates from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels gathered for a networking breakfast at an alumni club in midtown Manhattan. Roughly two-thirds were connected with finance. The group also included several lawyers, plus people in the arts, public policy and human services.

The hopeful sign is the conspicuous number of voluntary job leavers among them. These intrepid souls equaled or even outnumbered the inevitable layoff victims (one or two people let go by hedge funds and at least one from an educational institution).

The first person I spoke with had just left a prominent architecture firm to go into business for herself. "You must be brave," I told her, "to jump into the unknown like that in the middle of a recession." She said the step is essential for her professional growth, adding that her former employer continues doing well despite the recession.

Minutes later, everyone was seated and each delivered an elevator pitch to introduce him or herself to the group. To my amazement, the brave architect's story recurred in one form after another.

One man recently left a top law firm start a practice focusing on commercial litigation. He's already landed five paying clients and came to the meeting seeking leads for "rather spacious" office space in Manhattan. Even if his efforts wash out - which looks unlikely at this point - he's sure he could quickly find a job in another law firm. He'd already turned down an offer before striking off on his own.

A 2007 college graduate just left a bulge-bracket bank where she'd worked in an analyst program. She decided finance isn't for her, and is seeking opportunities in the arts or publishing.

All in all, the gathering provides one more link in the chain of anecdotes that suggest the economy is bottoming.

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