Dear graduating seniors,
Congratulations on reaching this milestone. Your class has faced a tough road through the end of your high school journey, and you should feel proud of what you’ve accomplished despite those setbacks.
As per tradition, I would like to offer you some advice as you set off on your next adventure, whatever that may be.
My first advice would be to believe in yourself. That may sound cheesy, but I know that when I graduated from both high school and college, I felt intimidated by the thought of all the people I would be trying to measure up to in the future. I envisioned college and the workforce as an army of people smarter and more accomplished than I was, who had expensive tutors and attended fancy private schools in big cities and spent their summers building schools in Africa.
It’s true that in going from a school with a graduating class of less than 200 to a university with more than 30,000 students, I had more competition. I was rarely — if ever — the smartest person in the room. But I learned a lot, graduated in four years and landed a job in my chosen field, and not once did any potential employers ask me if I graduated at the top of my class (I didn’t).
Believing in yourself doesn’t have to mean feeling sure that you will someday be the best basketball player or rapper or Instagram influencer in the whole world. Sometimes it just means believing that you’re going to be successful and happy — even if it turns out you’re not the best in the world at anything.
I promise you that if you are hard working, dependable and respectful, you will already be more qualified for the jobs you apply for than some of the applicants.
I’ll even let you in on a little secret: Job postings are often a description of the employer’s ideal candidate, not a list of absolute necessities. And when employers struggle to find anyone who checks all of the boxes, they will sometimes settle for someone who is only 75% of the way there but seems like a hard worker who could be trained. The real answer to the age-old conundrum, “How do I get experience when all the jobs that would give me experience require experience?” is often simply, “I applied anyway and they still hired me.”
A second piece of advice I would give you is to take time while you’re young to make memories and build relationships. The older you get, the more everyone tends to become entangled in responsibilities — being in a management role at work, raising children, caring for elderly parents, volunteering.
When people get to that point, they often look back at their 20s and wish they had spent more time traveling, or taking other opportunities that now involve much more pre-planning to be able to make work. It can also be more difficult to make friends when you’ve passed the age where Friday nights involve a bunch of people spontaneously piling into cars and hanging out at a bonfire until 2 a.m.
So don’t get so caught up in the stress of figuring out what you’re doing with your life that you forget to have fun. Go to that bonfire on Friday night and then wake up Monday morning ready to do something that will set you up for success. Life is about balance.
Each generation has its own challenges — I graduated into a deep recession that my generation has never fully recovered from financially, and some of my ancestors didn’t get a chance to graduate at all before being shipped off to war. Your generation will be working to shape the world in the wake of a pandemic that feels like it turned everything upside-down.
That brings with it opportunity. The future may seem daunting now, but it’s full of possibilities. Go make it your own.