Advice to recent High School graduates

Now that the Graduation Party Season is over, the other thing that comes to mind is the bright futures of all the recent grads. As a father of four, and a friend to many, I thought I might offer up some advice to the newest Graduating Class. I hold no delusion that there are many recent graduates who read the blog of a fiftysomething dude, but you never know. So here goes.

Send out hand-written thank you notes for your graduation gifts. Head out to your favorite office supply or discount store, and buy some packs of Thank You notes. Then, set aside an evening or two and hand write your cards. The hard work is good for the soul for sure, but more importantly, you want to foster a spirit of gratitude in your heart. Write out every note with a personal message. Tell them how grateful you are for their love and support. Trust me, in the coming years you will want to tap into some of that support from time to time. Be thankful that it is there, and show that thankfulness.

Differentiate yourself from the crowd in your college years. We all know the stereotypes about college men and women. There are the partiers, the greeks, the freaks, the jocks and so on. When you graduate, you will be looking for a job, and you will want to stand out from the crowd. Here are four ways to set yourself apart from the crowd:

  • Work with your hands. Take a part time job that involves good, manual labor. You will learn the value of a hard day of work, and you will find that it increases your experience in ways you never expected. Get your hands dirty doing something, and you will not regret it.
  • Work with the public. Maybe at the same job as above, but take some time to work with the public. Whether it is a retail job, a table wait-staff job, or something else. Learn to deal with people from all walks of life. Be cheerful with them, and learn to find ways to make them happy.
  • Improve your written communication skills. If you choose a technical track, you will get plenty of opportunity at technical writing. Nothing wrong with that. But, if you want to stand out in an interview someday, learn to write effective, succinct, coherent email messages and notes. We live in a world where everyone tries to find ways to fit thoughts into 140 characters or less. That is fine, and it has its place. But, in the professional world, being able to write effectively means that your great ideas can find their way into the heads of those around you. And while you are at it, work on your spelling and grammar. Nothing can kill your credibility faster in the professional world than misspelled words, or incorrect grammar.
  • Take a public speaking class. It doesn’t matter which one you take, as long as it gives you plenty of opportunity to stand on your feet and talk to an audience. It will be terrifying at first, but push through. Whether you join toastmasters, take a Dale Carnegie course, or just enroll in public speaking courses at school, find ways to stand up and talk. The confidence you will gain from having a pattern of success will make your speaking skill increase exponentially. You may never become a professional public speaker, but with that confidence in your tool bag you will shine in your interviews, and – more importantly – be able to get people to your way of thinking at your first professional job.

Learn to think for yourself. You will be inundated with a variety of viewpoints as you work through your college years. Some you will agree with, some you will not. Some will sound great because they are spoken by celebrities. Learn to think critically, seek the facts, and think for yourself. Don’t follow a pattern of thought just because it is in the mainstream. Nor should you embrace the off shoots because they seem fashionable. Think for yourself, and hold true to those thoughts. But, don’t be afraid to change your mind based on what you learn along the way. That is a sign of a mature, deep thinker.

Read other than what is required. Read things that will challenge and expand your mind. Fine literature, good magazine articles (not the ones in People, or Us Weekly, but more like the ones in Time Magazine), will expand your mind. Foster a love of reading, and keep that love alive throughout your life. Open yourself to good fiction, challenging non-fiction, business books, or anything else that will stimulate your most important muscle.

Embrace Personal Accountability. So much of what I see as problems in this world comes from a lack of personal accountability. Own what you do, and what you say. If you make a mistake, or offend someone, stand up and be an adult about it. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, rely on your guile and grit to make it better. The world doesn’t owe you anything except what you earn with your own hard work. Anything else is a gift. Avoid anything that even smells like a spirit of entitlement. Taking this approach may make it harder to reach some of your goals, but the sweetness of that accomplishment will stay on your tongue for a very long time.

So, these are some of my thoughts for recent High School graduates. Take them, as you would all free, unsolicited advice, with a grain of salt.

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