A commencement speaker at Point Park University here urged graduates to brush their teeth. Whether she was grasping at a clever metaphor for handling life after college or she actually felt that a diploma along with good dental hygiene were keys to happiness, I couldn’t tell. Commencement speeches come in many flavors.
I’ll be attending three college graduation ceremonies this month and I imagine that besides tooth brushing I’ll also hear about rising to one’s full potential, reaching for the stars, and not being discouraged by failure. Solid advice, indeed. But to the Class of 2014 I also offer this:
Read a newspaper. Also, watch C-SPAN periodically, become a fan of “60 Minutes,” and try listening to NPR. The more college students I speak with, the more alarmed I become about the general disregard for current events. I don’t mean what’s trending on the Internet or what’s hot in Hollywood, I mean real news. If you truly hope to get ahead, keep up with the information you ought to know - not just the material you want to know.
-Limit mobile devices. At Point Park, administrators were compelled to warn students not to use cellphones while crossing the stage to receive their diplomas. They should have extended the ban to the seating areas, where thumbs tapped furiously throughout the speeches. Instant communication has revolutionized our lives and your generation, but don’t let it become an obsession.
-Go slowly. Sure, you want a good career, a lot of money and a family of your own. But if those things don’t present themselves immediately, then get a paid internship, work for a non-profit, or be a volunteer if you can afford to. Do the things that many of us wish we had done after college, and then found too difficult to arrange once our lives became more complicated.
-Call home. After college I went for almost a decade in a self-absorbed world of my own. I felt I didn’t need help with life, and I took that to mean I could drift away from my family. Big mistake. The time is precious and if you squander it now, chances are you’ll regret it later. Being independent doesn’t mean cutting family ties.
-Vote. Now there’s an unusual piece of advice for college grads, but it’s troubling to learn how many people in their twenties aren’t registered and don’t vote. Sometimes it’s because they are transplanted to new communities; or, it’s just a conviction that a single vote won’t mean anything. Voting is not only your civic responsibility, it actually makes you feel good when you do it.
-Smile once each day. We live in an age when the letters LOL are typed routinely by people sitting at keyboards without even cracking a smile. Laughing out loud - or at least smiling - isn’t just a mental exercise, it’s a facial exercise; in fact, it’s a full-body workout. And try doing it once in a while when you’re alone. Andy Rooney was right when he said, “If you smile when no one’s around, it proves you really mean it.”
-Go somewhere. As soon as you can manage it, get out of the country and see what the rest of the world is about. Broadening the horizons of your mind is enhanced by expanding the horizons of your travels.
-Get over yourself. At graduation they pump you up because you’ve earned it. Now, get real. The diploma counts for a lot, but it doesn’t mean you know it all -- or even a small part of it. View the next phase of life as an even greater learning experience than the one you just went through. In fact, if you really want to help your own cause, sign up now for that literature class you were afraid to take last year because it might have hurt your GPA.
Plus, I suppose, you should brush after meals and floss regularly. If nothing else it will cut the dental bills, once your parents are no longer paying them. Good luck!
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker