Sunday, June 04, 2006

Advice for Graduates

From 1988 to 2001 I edited and published a weekly community newspaper, The Observer, and about this time each year I would write an editorial addressed to the soon-to-be high school and college graduates of the area. It wasn’t an original idea; such editorials are common in the spring. But I took a somewhat original approach inasmuch as I was not telling the graduates what a big step they had taken and how much they had accomplished, but instead trying to give them a dose of cold, hard reality, and some good, solid advice. 

Each year it becomes more evident that kids need that message more than the year before, because this generation—Generation Me, it has been called—is a different breed. More and more kids graduating today are the product of the “self-esteem-at-any-cost movement,” a dumb-headed and dangerous construct that holds that whatever else is going on in a young person’s life, they need to be made to feel important. It is no longer enough for a kid to feel good about herself because she won the spelling bee or made straight As, or because he is the fastest in the hundred-yard dash at the county track meet. No, that isn’t good enough because only one person could win the bee or the dash, and not everyone is capable of making straight As. Those that don’t win get no positive reinforcement from whatever the experience is, and that is simply unacceptable; everyone must get positive reinforcement from every experience or their egos will be forever damaged.

Kids with this sort of background are at a tremendous disadvantage, even if they happen to have come away with a good education, and these days that is anything but certain. Their attention has been misfocused during much of their time in school, they have quite often been taught to pay attention to the wrong things, and they are not prepared to successfully function in the workaday world.

So in the interest of helping them adapt, here is my advice for today’s graduates:

  • Despite the picture painted for you, you are not the smartest and most wonderful person on Earth.

  • What you think about things will be irrelevant to most other people most of the time. It isn’t what you say; it’s what you do that counts.

  • You have graduated, and that is certainly noteworthy, but that achievement is relative; there are millions who have graduated before you, and you are just getting started.

  • If you were valedictorian, salutatorian or an honor student, good for you, but that buys you very little at the next stage.

  • You need to develop some perspective. Fast.

  • Always be polite and courteous. It is virtually painless and pays big dividends.

  • Be respectful of your elders; they know what you are just beginning to learn.

  • Even if you have a college degree, when you get a job your first and most important task is to learn. You don’t learn how to do your job in college; you learn that on the job. College gives you tools; experience gives you expertise.

  • When you get a job, try to be underpaid. That means you are giving your employer more than he or she is paying for, and that is the prescription for advancement.

  • Listen to and learn from people who hold different opinions than you. You may still keep your opinions, but at least there will have been conscious thought involved in the process.

Good luck in the future. If you work hard, you will most likely be successful.

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Terry Godfrey said...
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Buffalo said...

It made me laugh, but it sure the hell is true.

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