Advice for the Graduate

Forgive me while I turn on the sappy-ness. Yesterday was the last day of instruction, and last night was graduation in my district. It’s to be expected that we teachers get a little nostalgic and teary-eyed at the end of school year, right? File May 22, 4 12 06 PM

In some capacity, I have worked with almost every grade-level, from Pre-K to 12th grade, over the past ten years. With the exception of the two year hiatus I took to be with my kids, I have taught at least one high school class every year. Some students I meet and teach for the first time their senior year. Others I am blessed to mentor and teach for multiple years, sometimes all four, of their high school career. Most of the time, they teach me, too.

At the end of the year, I find myself scrambling to complete their education. Not as musicians, but as people. I think of things I want them to know while I try to sleep at night, while I’m getting ready in the morning, or driving to and from work. I pat them on the back or hug them more often. I ask them about their plans, and offer help if they have not finalized them. I write recommendations for scholarships and serve as a reference for jobs. I let them “friend” me on Facebook. I remind them to check in with me from time to time.

And sometimes I find myself saying things that seem silly, but that I really want them to know:

Don’t wait to tell people you love them. Call your parents. Always carry a little cash. Step out of your comfort zone every now and then. Volunteer. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Accept that failure is part of learning. Drink lots of water. Wear sunscreen. Treat yourself occasionally. Try not to let your gas tank get below ¼ full. The experts are wrong: it’s perfectly okay to go to bed angry. You’ll be amazed what a little daylight will do for that anger. Don’t expect to magically have all the answers when you turn 18 or graduate from college. And don’t panic when you don’t.

But more than anything, I want you to remember this:

No matter how much you love what you do, always love people more.

Notice I didn’t say you have to like people. You may not be a “people person”. And that’s okay. You don’t have to work with people to work on their behalf. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a job anywhere that doesn’t touch people in some way. You may not work directly with many people in a medical research lab. But your work could inevitably touch many people. As a journalist or a writer, you may not see the way your words affect those that read them. But they will. Your work, even if done in solitude, will find a way to influence the lives of people.

That is why loving people is so important. Love will hold you accountable to the knowledge that your work will find its way into the lives of others. It will drive you to work toward contributions to the greater good. And that is the only way we can ever bring about positive change.

College graduation, May 2004

College graduation, May 2004

Yes, people can be a source of pain in your life; but people will also be the main source of joy, healing, help, encouragement, laughter, comfort, hope, and love. It’s okay to be passionate about your career. But always love people more. People will always have the greatest return for your investment.

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One thought on “Advice for the Graduate

  1. While we’ve badgered you for years take responsibility for your choices, it’s just as important to cut loose any lingering sense of responsibility for others’ decisions. You are not what happened to or around you as a child, nor are you bound to be at 20 who you were at 16 or 14 or 12. You are not what others label you or only what you fear you are when no one knows. Go forward from here. It’s not magic, there will be connections to what’s past, but it’s a helluva time to reboot and rebuild using what you already know you like and what you’ve learned you don’t. And if you screw up, do what you can to make it right, then. .. forward again. Be free.

    Liked by 1 person

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