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Against the grain, one woman doesn't become a brain drain statistic

Vanessa Rose left Syracuse after high school for a nearby big city. She eventually returned to upstate New York, making her an anomaly.
Ryan Morden
Vanessa Rose left Syracuse after high school for a nearby big city. She eventually returned to upstate New York, making her an anomaly.


There are generally three types of young people who don’t live in upstate New York:

If that’s the rule, than Vanessa Rose is the exception. She’s in her late 30s, married, and a mother of three. She teaches 4th graders at an elementary school in Manlius, just outside of Syracuse.  

When she graduated from high school in Syracuse in the early ’90s, she was almost another statistic: Option A, born here, and left.

The big city

“I wanted to have the experience of living in a big city. I like to go out a lot, I like to be very active, keep myself busy,” says Rose.

She went to college in Long Island, lived in Boston for a stint, then settled in New York City. There was a lot NYC could offer that Syracuse couldn’t. Rose was part of a robust theater community, worked as a waitress, and did event planning.

“The metropolitan area was the place. You couldn’t come to Syracuse to become an event planner, because what events are going on in Syracuse?” says Rose.

And there’s a way bigger dating pool in the city. After striking out several times in the dating scene, she met the man who would eventually become her husband.

It was a typical boy-meets-girl-for-the-entertainment-of-the-audience story.

“A friend of mine is a producer, and she was producing a theatrical version of The Dating Game. He was bachelor number 2,” says Rose.

Ken Keech was doing standup at the time, and got pulled into The Dating Game at the last minute. He and Rose developed a rapport right on stage. Later, Keech called her up, and asked her out on a date.

“[We] fell in love on that first date I’d say, then the rest is history,” he says.

Keech was heavily involved with the group Improv Everywhere, the godfather of group pranks, like flash mobs, on unsuspecting crowds. Keech and Rose's love was forged over events like a synchronized swimming performance in a New York City fountain.

Coming home

But a life of viral video glitz and glamor had a tipping point.

“New York had exhausted me,” says Rose.

That financial and emotional strain - plus a major life change - caused Rose to reconsider big city life.

“I got pregnant,” she says. “I thought about raising a kid where we were, and where we were living ... what we could afford. It didn’t have the appeal to me. Then we had the kid, and I realized how hard it was going to be, and I needed some family support. ”

The idealism that brought Rose to New York did not include living in a dingy basement apartment in Queens with a new baby on the way. For all the draw of New York City, Rose says there are some things that only Syracuse can offer.

“I want a better quality life for myself. I want to own a house. I want to be able to have some spare money, I want to have full support from my family,” she says.

And deep down, Rose knew that big city lifestyle wasn’t going to be permanent.

“I think it was fun for me to play out some dreams and do that, but I think there was also a part of me [that] always knew,” she says. “All I really wanted to do was find somebody I loved, have children, and have a house. There was such a part of me that wanted that too.”

Rose says she has a fulfilling life now. She’s involved with local arts and young professionals groups.

But people always ask her if she misses New York City.  So does she?

Just her friends, she says - and the food.

Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.
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