Dear Class of 2015,
You’ve graduated, I see—literally, since the photos are everywhere. So I wanted to say, “Congratulations! Way to go!” You’ve just marked a major milestone, one you’ll not regret even when the student loan bills begin to arrive. Believe me, I know. After all, I graduated once, too, all the way in 2014, though it’s ancient history now. Back in my day, we waited until May 3 to do it, but as I keep reading in the newspaper, the kids are doing it younger and younger these days.
Anyway, soon you’ll be feeling a pretty strong hangover—rife with headaches, vomiting, sensitivity to light—that has nothing to do with alcohol consumption. No matter how you celebrate graduation, it’s the graduating itself that gives you the highest high. Soon you’ll be spending all of your time in what some people call “the real world.” Fortunately, some people are what others call “bitter.” Either way, it ain’t pretty. This brave new world isn’t a geographically defined space with where everyone shares the same goal. You’ll have to create your own goals.
Maybe you already know what those goals are. Maybe you’ve known since elementary school what you wanted to be, to do, to win. This is, and always was, yours to decide. Hopefully you’ve landed your dream job already, but for most, you’ll have years to go and plenty of hard work before your big break.
So this is the part where I have some advice. Since you’ve had it up to your ears with lectures by this point, I’ll make it pithy. Two quick things:
1. Be proud of your accomplishments but not pompous. You’ve come a long way! But so has everyone already working in your field, even if you can tweet better. Don’t let people tell you you’re too young or inexperienced to take on anything. However, don’t pretend there’s nothing more to learn. Instead, be tenacious. Talk to people in your field about how they got to where they are, even if you don’t work with them and just meet for coffee. Few can resist free coffee.
2. Ask questions—even dumb ones. After four years in school, you know the old adage about “no dumb questions” is a farce. You’ve heard the stupidest questions imaginable in ethics, anthropology, composition, and all the other gen eds you didn’t want to take. But even the stupid questions found answers. Asking questions means you’re curious, and that’s one of the best motivators you can have. Curiosity is a virtue in my book. Curiosity drives people to do great things without the promise of money or celebrity, but simply to understand our world and the ways we live in it.
Lastly, when you start to retch from that post-commencement hangover, just remember that it’s not the last time. There are higher highs to come. (Ditto for worse hangovers.) But that lightness you felt walking across the stage, even if you never again graduate, it’ll find you, fill up the pit of your stomach like helium until you’re once more walking on air.