Graduation season is upon us, and soon the Class of 2013 will swim far from the safe harbor of university. yesterday, as I sat in a sea of students at commencement, a flood of nostalgia enveloped me as I became sentient of the role reversal. Four years ago, I was that eager and doe-eyed college graduate thinking the world was my oyster. Four years later, I am still casting out my pearls and learning how to navigate the ebbs and flows of my mid-twenties. Compared to my peers, I may not have accomplished much – yet. I have not started my own family or completed a graduate degree, nor have I founded my own start-up company or traveled much of the world. Still, I want to dispense four key lessons that I have learned in these four short years:
1. Be present, fully present. We live in an increasingly fast paced, technology centered, socially connected world. Just as I cannot imagine my college experience without Facebook, college students now cannot survive without a social media play-by-play on their mobile devices. But is it necessary to sign into Starbucks on Foursquare, to Instagram your plate of sushi, to tweet your passive-aggressive social interactions, and to #hashtag #everything #instagood #whateverthatmeans? Graduates, you and I need to stop living life from the confines of our iPhones, and simply be present. Be engaged in conversation without compulsively checking notifications. Take in the scenery without feeling compelled to document it in photographs. Leave your phone at home and feel at peace to go about your day without it. Appreciate presence and be fully present.
2. Be aware of your actions. In one of my most beloved books, The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Mitch Albom writes that “each affects the other, and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.” The world is interconnected and much smaller than you think, especially in this digital age. Be aware of your carbon footprint, because your minute decisions to reduce, reuse, and recycle or simply turn off the lights will affect the generations that succeed us. Be aware of what you convey verbally and non-verbally, because your actions speak volumes. Be aware in your personal lives, for you may have hurt or offended someone without knowing the depth of the scars you inflicted. Be aware in your professional lives, for the deadline you carelessly missed may have gotten your superior in trouble. Every single action you make has a ripple effect, so affect others as best you can.
3. Be kinder than necessary. Society provokes us to be prideful of our accomplishments, aggressive with our actions, and selfish in our gains. But I encourage you to go against the grain and to be kinder than necessary. Ask yourself: Can I still treat people with kindness, compassion, dignity, and respect – regardless of whether I am having a bad day, despite when it feels like the whole world is against me, and even when it is not convenient for me? It has been said: “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” The other day at work, a client was at a job fair with 50+ employers and 150+ job seekers. Instead of vying to make a presence by cutting in line, she patiently waited her turn. In turn, the employer noticed her patience and hired her on the spot. Make genuine kindness part of your presence, and you will be recognized for it while making the present a much better place.
4. Be wise with your investments. Most college graduates possess a youthful sense of indestructibility. Nothing phases us as we drive recklessly, pull all nighters, binge drink, eat unhealthily, reinforce poor habits, and act carelessly. With the juvenile impression that we still have time, we forget that we are on borrowed time. We justify our actions as carpe diem, ignoring the latter part, quam minimum credula postero, which means putting as little trust in the future. Horace’s original ode says that the future is unpredictable, so one should not leave the future to chance; rather, one should do everything today to invest in tomorrow. An investment is not just as an appreciation in value but also an appreciation of value. Invest in a solid 401k, in healthy eating habits, in an exercise regimen, in lifelong learning, in quality time with family, in incorruptible friendships, and in the assurance of faith. Invest wisely, both while you can and before you need to.
So to the Class of 2013: Be present. Be aware. Be kind. Be wise. And congratulations.