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Congratulations Graduates…

May 22, 2012

During the early years of life major milestones are celebrated by graduation.  You graduate from pre-school and head to the number grades.  You graduate from 8th grade and into high school.  Next comes high school graduation and, if you’re blessed and determined, college and beyond.  All of these “graduations” signify different moments in our growth towards adulthood but they are celebrated in much the same fashion: parade the graduates around, hand them a piece of paper, have someone important give a speech about things to come and then…cake.

When I graduated 8th grade something occurred during the ceremony that I still remember to this day.  I attended Junior High at the same place that I’d be attending High School: Lorain Catholic. I am the youngest of four siblings (two girls, two boys) and all of us graduated from LC.  In case you’re just joining my blog you should also know that my brother and I are incredibly close. When I was graduating 8th grade he was graduating from high school.  One of the traditions at Lorain Catholic was to have a graduating senior give the commencement speech to the 8th graders and my brother, with his outstanding writing skills, was chosen to send us off.

As my brother stood at the front of the auditorium, filled with my classmates and our families, he delivered a message that I have never forgotten.  He talked about how, for the first three years of High School he was introverted; too shy to participate in a lot of activities that he may have enjoyed.  His senior year he came out of his shell and loved every minute of it.  His message to us was, “Don’t wait to discover the things you love.  These four years will be over before you know it. Don’t make the mistake I made and miss out on the opportunities you have in front of you today.”

In a room full of people I felt like he was speaking directly to me; his little brother. I spent High School being as active as I could; Captain of the football and baseball team, I sung solos (in tights) in the drama club, I was on the yearbook committee, Student Council and I helped with retreats and dances.  I didn’t care what anyone else’s opinion of me was.  I did what made me happy. The same rang true for college.  In fact, the only thing that he was wrong about was that the four years didn’t fly by, eight did.

After college I shuffled through a few years, struggling to find my place.  I have no doubts that many of the graduates about to leave their trusted college campuses in the coming weeks feel the same way.  While no one (yet) has asked me to be a keynote speaker, I thought I’d prepare a speech anyways.  What follows are my humble words of advice for everyone about to graduate college and step out into the real world for the first time…

Graduates, let me be the next in a long line of people to tell you this: Congratulations.  What you have just accomplished is something that 80% of Americans will not do; you graduated college.  This is something you should be proud of. For the rest of your life you are a college graduate.  While this carries some nice cache it does not make you entitled.  A college degree may get you into the door of an interview but it does not guarantee you a salary and benefits.  Unfortunately, a large number of you are probably realizing this as we speak and you’ll continue to realize it in the coming weeks as you apply for countless positions; some you are qualified for and others, not so much.  Don’t get flustered.  It’s a process.

For those of you who are sitting comfortably because you have already landed a great position or because you’ve been accepted to graduate school; well done.  That is an impressive feat and you should be proud.  For the other 98% of you out there: don’t get down on yourselves.  Dream careers don’t always come along immediately.  Sometimes you have to shuffle through difficult jobs and situations to find your happy place.  Gold isn’t found at the surface and not all who wander are lost.  Trust me; I wandered for a long time before I discovered a job I loved. I worked for my father, went to grad school, bartended, went back to my dad’s office and then stumbled into a job that I love by sending out more resumes than I care to remember.

Something you’re going to realize over the next few months is that your life is about to change, again. Some of you may move back to your home cities or to brand new ones entirely but even if you’re staying here know that you’re about to experience a tidal wave of change that you might not be ready for, and that, too, is ok. Change is both inevitable and healthy but it also might be a little scary. When I graduated college I wish someone would have given me a laundry list of what to expect.  Now I know that every situation is different but I’m going to give you a rundown of some things you’ll come across in your newfound life as a recent grad.

  1. Waking up before the sunrise is hard, but you WILL get used to it. When you are fortunate to gain employment you’ll quickly realize that work life starts early. Really, really early. I used to struggle to wake up for my 9:30 am classes.  Now I’m in the office and at my desk by 7:30 am.  For the first few weeks you might feel like life is ending; you couldn’t possibly ever be this tired. It gets better.  You’ll start realizing that you are allowed to go to bed at a reasonable hour instead of watching that ‘Fresh Prince’ marathon and you’ll begin waking up feeling rested and ready for the day. This schedule change has some interesting side effects. For example: sleeping in on the weekends will start to mean waking up around 9 am instead of noon.  That sounds scary to hear but you can be pretty productive with those 3 extra hours. Not to mention…weekend brunch.
  2. Living at your parents for a year isn’t the worst thing in the world. If you are working, imagine the money you’ll be saving and if you aren’t working, imagine the money you WON’T be spending. I know you’ve grown accustomed to your independence but you may want to consider the price of that independence.  You’d be amazed at how much it costs to live on your own: rent, bills, food and all the other ancillary items that you need on a day to day basis.  There are things in life you need that you don’t even realize right now. I mean, do you have any idea how expensive an iron and ironing board can be? Which brings me to my next point…
  3. IRON YOUR CLOTHES.  You’re not a college kid rolling out of bed anymore; heading to class with a hangover. So don’t go around dressing like one.
  4. Look around you.  Right now you’re probably surrounded with friends you’ve spent the last four years sharing every single moment with.  You got drunk together, watched Eurotrip and Beerfest repeatedly together; you cried together and probably fought as well. During that time, hanging out was a simple as crossing the hall and walking through the door that your friends obviously never bothered to lock. Unfortunately this is no longer going to be the case. You’ll probably share a city or ZIP code with at least some of these people but a lot of you might not even be in the same state. It’s not going to be easy to stay in touch but try your best. You’ll lose track of a lot of the people in this room because it’s simply not going to be possible to stay close any more but keep as many of these friends as you can.  Something else you’ll learn to love during this post graduation timeframe is road trips.  There’s nothing greater than piling into a car and discovering a new city.  With the exception of discovering that new city with an old friend who already lives there.  Keep in touch. Skype, text, call or email. Whatever you have to do. In 40 years when you’re reminiscing about ‘the good ole days’ it will be more fun doing it with people who were actually there.
  5. Explore.  Don’t be afraid to see new places. Look, I know what it’s like to not have any money. Heck, I still don’t have any real money.  Obviously big vacations like heading to Europe or a two-week cross country road trip might not be feasible but there’s no reason you can’t have new life experience on a budget.  Map out a weekend with friends in a city you’ve never seen and split a motel room. Go whitewater rafting.  Explore city landmarks you’ve never bothered to care about.  Try new foods and restaurants you can’t pronounce and go to concerts of bands you’ve never heard of.  Some of the greatest moments of your life will happen when you least expect them.
  6. Don’t say no.  You’re going to have coworkers and friends invite you to a wide variety of events and activities that you might not think sound appealing or even enjoyable.  Don’t immediately dismiss these offers. Co-ed Kickball? Corporate Challenge obstacle course? Happy hour at that weird Thai restaurant? You’ll dwell on the memories you don’t make almost as often as you think about the ones that you do.  Jim Carey was right…sometimes you just have to say yes.
  7. Reward yourself.  Even the best job in the world can become monotonous and a little stale. Your day to day life can be taxing and repetitive. In order to break this up plan things to look forward to and then prepare for those moments.  Whether it’s a weekend trip to visit friends, treating yourself to some shopping, or planning a short vacation for yourself, it’s important to create mini-milestones.
  8. You’re allowed to be nostalgic. Take it from me, you’ll hear a song that reminds you of your sophomore year significant other or the time you drank red-eyes and stayed up all night not studying for your Italian final. Maybe a certain meal will always remind you of cafeteria lunches with friends on a Friday while you planned out your skipping class excuses for the afternoon.  Regardless of the memories, make sure to look back upon the fondly.  It may hurt that they’re over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t smile when think about them. 

Life is about to change. I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground by telling you that. I could have spent this time telling you about saving money for the future and contributing to your 401(K) but you’ll have plenty of people telling you that stuff soon enough.  What I want to make sure you do is to cherish the live you’re about to lead. For most of you, you’re going to start making real money for the first time.  You’ll buy new cars and work clothes and you’ll start to appreciate all the knickknacks Target has to offer.  You may even begin enjoying stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Crate & Barrel.  You’ll finally understand the true joy of Happy Hour. Perhaps you’ll start to appreciate wine and, trust me; you’ll love and anticipate each and every brunch, especially at restaurants with mimosas and Bloody Mary Bars.

When I walked away from college it took me a while to stop thinking my life was over. Everyone says that college is the best four years of your life. Well, I loved every single minute of my time there but in the four years since I walked across that stage I’ve lived in multiple cities, gotten engaged, bought a puppy and traveled the country both for work and pleasure.  I still miss the campus life but I wouldn’t trade these life experiences for anything in the world.

Your life is not over. In fact, it’s just beginning.  You still have the ability to be anyone you want.  You can achieve great things or you can simply not.  The point is, it’s up to you.  You have knowledge, friends, family and a diploma in your hand.  Your life can be absolutely anything you want it to be.  The choice is entirely up to you and THAT is something worth congratulating.

Enjoy the coming weeks and months, you’re about to find out just how wonderful life after college can be. I’ll see you at brunch.

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