June 7, 2007
Note to new grads: it’s just the beginning!
My first act as a graduate two years ago was choosing to skip my commencement ceremony. Reluctant to put closure on four enriching years at the University of Florida, I turned in my final paper on "Trash Cinema" and bolted to the Florida Turnpike, figuring I had at least five hours to ruminate before life began.
Two years, four cities and more jobs than can fit on a resume later, I've been thinking about graduating (and not just because the Gators have won three NCAA Championship titles since).
As proof that destiny is not without a sense of humor, I recently found myself back at my alma mater saluting my little sister at her college graduation.
Watching her walk across the stage and knowing the immense journey ahead, I felt compelled to share what I've learned with her. With two fast but full years under my belt and scrolls of solicited wisdom from my esteemed elders, I've discovered how meaningful it is to throw your cap into the air.
But strip away the hype, the elaborate weekends steeped in family ritual and celebratory dining, how many graduates take their passage seriously? Aside from announcements that serve as financial solicitations to our nearest and dearest nowadays, how can graduates show they're prepared for the next phase of life?
How does an individual prepare for the lifelong transition of becoming who they are meant to be?
In retrospect, I realize I wasn't ready to graduate -- from college, from parental support, from the carelessness of youth in which I considered myself quite skilled. My peers avoided this precipice similarly. Many blindly went from one institution to another, finishing undergrad and matriculating to graduate school. True, graduate study is an unparalleled opportunity for furthering passions or professional goals, but I found it odd, and even humorous, that so many of my peers immediately wound up in law school, yet I can't remember many of my childhood friends broadcasting dreams of becoming lawyers.
Perhaps the naked confrontation with infinite possibility is too frightening, and many feel that arming themselves with fancy degrees will better equip them for the demands of the adult world. But everyone faces reality eventually, and a degree is simply a piece of paper until a person parlays it into a satisfying life.
Despite my absence from the ceremony, graduating was a cumulative process and not a single event; a period fraught with growth, change, struggle, new experiences and, finally, commitment to a pursuit. For me, that decision necessitated a move away from home, which truly signified my entry into an adult brand of independence.
This is what I learned during my graduation:
- Don't rush. The imminent grind of capitalism is yours for the taking -- for the rest of your life -- so ignore the ubiquitous pressure to become a millionaire before you turn 30, because if we all made our millions by then, a bunch of celebrity-obsessed, party-going 20-somethings would dominate the world's largest economy. Secondly, it is more important and more rewarding to enjoy the fabric of the journey than to cross the finish line. After all, what would college graduation be if not for all those years we spent indulging in studenthood? What kind of adults might we be if not for our equal and opposite experience as children?
- Experiment and expand. When you are young, every possibility is open to you. The ability to be malleable and reinvent yourself is a treasure of youth that disappears when permanent responsibilities like mortgage payments, tuition and (heaven forbid!) children of your own enter the scene. It is only later in life that you will understand how the various dots of your existence connect into a cohesive, logical framework.
- Take risks. Safe choices are, at best, safe. But what makes life interesting and exciting are the unexpected adventures and opportunities that throw us off one course and onto another that is beyond our wildest dreams. Don't be afraid to do something that scares you. Never miss an opportunity to make yourself a more interesting person.
- Believe in yourself. People who believe in themselves cannot be hindered. Those are the people who change the world. They are the revolutionaries and visionaries with implacable dreams. They may not have a perfect plan, but they possess passion and conviction, and those qualities will fill the depths of your soul in ways a resume can never explain or encompass.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
Like you, I am working hard to make that true.