Graduation Reflections (or: An Open Letter to Recent Graduates)

Tonight I attended graduation at the school where my wife teaches. I want to say congrats to everyone in the class of 2012, no matter where you are!

During the ceremony as I listened to the speeches by salutatorians and valedictorian, I reflected upon my own graduation. I graduated high school in 1999 so it’s been 12 years since I was in their place. When I had my cap and gown on, these kids were first graders. First, I felt old. Very old. But I also began to realize that I should have listened to those who went before me when they told me things to expect once I hit the real world. As I am now part of the generation that has gone before these guys and gals, I feel that it’s our responsibility to impart advice based on our experiences.

Geez, I sound old again.

So, if I could say anything to those who have graduated tonight or at any point recently, it would be the following:

First, congratulations on reaching this milestone in your lives. Take some time to enjoy this step and to relax a little. Key phrase: A little. You’re in the real world now. No longer will you have people telling you where to go and when to be there. That is now your responsibility.

If you thought high school was tough, it’s nothing compared to college. In high school you had teachers who would take extra time to help you and do whatever they had to do to get you to accept it. Your professors and instructors don’t care why you “had” to miss their class or that you “need” extra time to finish a project. You do the work on their terms or not at all. They don’t care. They also don’t care whether you pass or fail. And if your parents call your instructors to try and take up for you, they’ll probably not give them the time if day (and you’ll likely have hell to pay). You’re an adult now; it’s time for you to handle your business like an adult. And your instructors/professors? They’re there to teach, not to coddle you. Those days are over. Soon you’ll realize how good you had it in high school.

The same goes for your bosses. If you miss too much work, you’ll get fired. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there… but again, remember that this is now your responsibility.

The question is not “if you will fail,” it’s “when.” Regardless of what you may believe, you will experience failure. You will get fired eventually. You won’t do well on probably many tests and papers. There will be times when you won’t be able to pay your bills and you’ll wonder whether or not you’ll be able to afford gas to go to work. With all of this in mind, the real question is “how will you bounce back when you fail.” And don’t fear – you will bounce back.

Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing is going to come easily – that’s just the reality. Nothing is handed to you in the real world – you have to work hard and earn it. Hard work is what has made so many before you great. Mark Zuckerburg – one of the founders of Facebook – didn’t become the wealthy man he is by sitting on his duff. In fact, he dropped out of Harvard. However, he worked hard and now he’s reaping the rewards. Wealth may not come as easily to you and in fact it probably won’t come at all, especially to the level of Zuckerberg. However, if you work hard, you will have everything you need and probably a good many things that you want.

Boyfriends and girlfriends will come and go. Don’t worry about experiencing heartbreak because you’re going to. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, it’s going to happen. Don’t fret about a relationship not working out; there are plenty of people out there for you to date. Somewhere there is someone special whom you may marry. Regardless, enjoy the ride and make sure you not only learn about your significant other but also learn about yourself. I learned something about myself in every relationship I ever had. Even though many didn’t end well, I’m still glad to have gone through them because I was able to learn a lesson. Having the same attitude will be good for you too.

Floss. Yes, it’s a pain but do it. Your gums will thank you.

Get a hair cut. Don’t get 20 piercings and 30 tattoos. In the real world, dress codes exist and are enforced. Like it or not, most companies haven’t accepted what you consider fashion. They also don’t care about your need for “self expression.” Keep the “art” to a minimum.

Go easy on the beer and booze. As a paramedic, I could tell you many stories about the consequences of bad decisions made while someone is drunk. Be safe. If you’re going to drink, give up the keys. Don’t become a statistic.

Stay away from illegal drugs. Don’t become addicted to prescription drugs. I know that should go without saying but, again, I could tell you stories about the consequences of addiction. Don’t even toy with it. It’s much easier just to not do it than to overcome it. Again, don’t become a statistic.

Read “Oh, The Places you will Go!” by Dr. Seuss.

Most importantly, keep your faith in Jesus Christ as the number one thing in your life. Yes, more important than any boyfriend or girlfriend, school, a job, anything. Don’t be afraid to respond to His calling should He call you to be a minister, missionary or even to sing in the praise band or choir at church. Listen to the Holy Spirit – He will guide you and let you know if you’re on the right path. Find a translation of the Bible that you can understand and enjoy reading… then read it as much as possible.

There’s much more but you’ll will just learn it from experience. Take advantage of every opportunity to grow. The growing pains aren’t fun but once you experience growth, you’ll be glad you went through it. Also, never stop growing.

I hope I never do.

Jonathan

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