Family & Education

Advice for New Graduates: Commencement Means Beginning

BY Jeff Minick TIMEJune 21, 2022 PRINT

For most high school and college seniors, the big day is now over.

You’ve gathered with your classmates and loved ones, walked across a stage wearing a cap and gown, received a diploma and a handshake, and are now officially graduates.

Some of you will go on to college or post-graduate studies. Others will join the work force or the military. Some of you know exactly what you want from the future: a specific career, marriage; someday a family of your own. Others, having left behind the structure and demands of school, may feel at loose ends. The future looks about as clear as the Great Dismal Swamp in a thunderstorm.

Whatever your plans, or lack thereof, here are nine random tips that might ease your anxiety and help you along the road.

The Best-Laid Plans

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men,” wrote Robert Burns, “gang aft agly.” In other words, our plans often fall apart. Or as an old Yiddish saying has it, “We plan, God laughs.”

Let’s say you majored in pre-med studies in college. You enter a respectable medical school and do fine academically, but by the end of your first year, a little voice in your head keeps asking, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

Entertain that voice. Listen to it. Maybe you’re just having a case of the jitters about the future. On the other hand, maybe you weren’t meant to be a physician after all.

Sometimes when our dreams fade, changing directions is okay. Life is enough of a long march without pursuing a misbegotten destiny.

Expect the Unexpected

Had someone told me in my boyhood that someday I would homeschool my children, operate a bed-and-breakfast, and magically dispatch something called email to places like Minneapolis or Chicago within the space of a breath, I would have been dumbfounded. They might as well have spoken Japanese. Homeschooling? A bed-and-breakfast? Email? At age 11, I had no idea at all what those things were.

But change, especially in the whirlwind that is our present age, is as inevitable as dawn. Learn to be adaptable.

A Lifelong Education

You’ve just spent years reading books for teachers. If you were one of the lucky students, those teachers introduced you to some classics: “Hamlet,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” and more.

Now you’re free to choose your own books. Podcasts, television dramas and comedies, and movies are all beneficial, but I encourage you to become readers. Frequently visit your local library and bookstore. Follow your heart in your reading, and try to include some old books from time to time.

Whatever the case, keep educating yourself.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Now there’s about as hackneyed a phrase as possible.

Yet this cliché rings true.

Some people I’ve known go through life following a furrow in a cornfield behind a plow. They keep on moving, eyes front and center, yet they miss not just opportunities all around them, but also the simple pleasures offered daily by this world. Their 3-year-old asks some sweet question they don’t hear because they’re too busy poking away on their phone. They stop every morning for a cup of coffee and fail to see the beauty in the smile of the barista behind the counter. They pride themselves on overcoming difficulties at work, but rarely stop to count their blessings and say thank you to life.

Take pleasure in life whenever you can and offer gratitude.

Companionship

Once they leave school, and especially once they move past their 30th birthday, many adults find it more difficult to make friends or, for that matter, to meet a possible spouse. Places of employment often limit our circle of acquaintances, which means we must find other venues for meeting people.

If you feel the need to broaden your circle of friends, consider becoming active in a church, joining some of the interest groups found online, or volunteering for some organization interesting to you.

Whatever you do, make some friends and keep them close. Sooner or later, you’re going to need one another.

Listen and Learn

Recently I read an account of a young man who envied a friend for his ability to strike up a conversation with strangers. One day, the young man asked his friend for his secret, and the answer was simple, “Ask questions.” As his friend pointed out, most people are enchanted when someone takes an interest in them and will respond positively to questions about themselves.

That advice, the young man said—he is now much older—was invaluable.

Because he took his friend’s suggestion to heart, he has spent his life asking questions, paying attention to the answers, and learning.

Listening is an invaluable tool for the workplace or for further studies, for marriage, and for raising children. Practice it early on, and it will become a great habit.

Mentors

I’m just over 70 years old, yet I still have mentors: at present, a man and two women younger than I. Over the years, they’ve acted as cheerleaders in my endeavors, given me invaluable counsel, and helped me get past my failures.

These people would laugh aloud if I described them as mentors, but there it is.

A mentor—someone in the workplace, a friend, a pastor, a counselor—can be invaluable as a listening board and a giver of helpful guidance. A spouse can serve in this same role. One man I know credits his wife with “saving me from myself.”

Aiming for Excellence

In “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead,” which I highly recommend to all graduates, Charles Murray ends his short book of advice for the young by urging them to watch the movie “Groundhog Day,” not just once but several times. In this film, we watch as an egocentric jerk is transformed into a “fully realized human being—a person who has learned to experience deep and lasting justified satisfaction with life.”

Watch and study “Groundhog Day.”

Murray then ends his book with this summary of encouragement: “Try hard. Be true. Enjoy. Godspeed.”

Targets to Aim For

Murray’s trying hard means getting out of bed every morning and tackling whatever the day brings to your front porch. It means finding the strength to go on when you feel you can’t take another step. It means, as Rudyard Kipling says in “If,” filling “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” Endurance is a key component of true adulthood.

Being true applies to our ideals, our honor, the right way, and our family. When we betray these virtues, a part of our spirit, often unnoted at first, dies. Commit that betrayal too many times, and we literally become the living dead. Be true to all you are, and whatever else happens, you can always look at yourself without shame in the mirror.

Enjoyment means taking pleasure from life. Close a lucrative deal at the software company where you work in sales, and you’re ecstatic. And so you should be. But simpler delights can also deliver joy: a delicious sandwich eaten at lunch, a spouse’s hug on returning from a business trip, the laughter and squeals of children running under a sprinkler in the backyard.

As for Murray’s “Godspeed,” that word intends “an expression of good wishes to a person starting on a journey.”

So, graduates, Godspeed to you all.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.
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