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As you head out into the world . . . some advice for graduates from ‘Monitor’ readers

Last week we asked readers for their best advice for high school seniors – essentially, tiny graduation speeches in 200 words or less. Turns out, everyone wants to be a graduation speaker! We got scads of wonderful submissions. Here’s a sampling – and we’ll publish more later in the week. Are you paying attention, graduates?

I was my best asset

When I graduated from high school, I did not have a career or a pile of money. In fact, all I had were some ratty jeans, a 1964 Rambler worth about $250 and hair down to my
. . . you know where. I wish someone had told me then that I was my most important asset.

As my only real asset, I needed to invest in myself to increase my value. Investing meant acquiring new skills and more education. I needed to nurture my interests. The more and deeper interests I had, the easier it would be to spend the time and energy to acquire more education and further develop my skills. I needed to protect my reputation because without it I would lose my value. Finally, “me” as an asset was fairly worthless if all I cared about was me. “Me” as an asset really only had value if I applied myself to better my community and the world in which I lived because when I am gone, all that will be left is what people remember of me. Hopefully this memory will be worth something.



How to make money

To make real money, you need to know more about some useful facts than just about anyone. So join the best organization you can, at any level, and first find a way to be the best in the organization at something – anything. Then learn – and once you are better at more things than most people in that organization, it will be time to either take charge, or start your own.



The world is not always kind

You have been told many times to be kind to others, and this is integral to living a good, fulfilling life. But the world will not always be kind back to you. Sometimes life will be easy, but other times it will lack justice and fairness. My single most important piece of advice is this: Believe everything happens for a reason. No matter what happens, believe that if you persevere, you will benefit. It may not be in the way you anticipate or wish, but it will be. Refuse to believe anything happens to you without a purpose meant to make you wiser or stronger. Give no person or moment the power to strip you of the ability to see hope. Leave no room in your heart for ambivalence or animosity. See every experience, even the ones that make you scream or cry, as a chance to grow and change for the better. And remember, if everything happens for a reason, then you are on this Earth for a reason, too.

Make it one people will speak well of long after you are gone.



Three simple rules

1. Do the work you love.

2. In a place you love.

3. Live below your means.



Don’t ask me!

Any 17-year-old who would seek advice from someone born during the Hoover admiration should go back to school.



Unplug regularly

Unplug for at least an hour a day. Make unplugging a daily habit for the rest of your life. You’ve mastered the art of technological multitasking. I just don’t want you to forget the dying art of being. Remember your pre-teen years? Playing in the sandbox, swinging on the swings for undistracted hours at a time because the iPhone hadn’t even been invented yet? Don’t let technology rob you of the experience of actual living, of loving others, of noticing the world around you. Most important, don’t let it rob you of the opportunity to get well acquainted with you. There’s only one of you in the universe. Learn to know yourself and love yourself as you are, and it won’t ever matter how many “likes” you get on Facebook. Congratulations!



Get me rewrite!

One of my favorite stories is the story of Alfred Nobel. Wikipedia describes Mr. Nobel as a “Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator and armaments manufacturer. He was the inventor of dynamite.” But the vignette that captured my heart begins near the end of his life. Alfred’s brother Ludwig died, but a French newspaper got the wrong information and thought that it was Alfred who had passed away. The paper wrote Alfred’s obituary beginning with the following headline: “The merchant of death is dead. Dr. Alfred Nobel, who made his fortune by finding a way to kill the most people as ever before in the shortest time possible died yesterday.”

Alfred Nobel was horrified. Was that going to be his legacy?! This is where the story gets interesting. It is thought that Alfred reached out to a friend he had met years earlier, Bertha von Suttner, an Austrian pacifist who had become famous for her book, Lay Down Your Arms. The devastated Nobel needed guidance: What to do? What to do? Whether it was Bertha directly or Nobel himself, Alfred managed to figure out how to rewrite his obituary. He changed his will and upon his death, eight years after the dreadful French obituary, Nobel’s famous will revealed that he had lay the foundation for the world’s most revered prizes including the coveted Nobel Peace Prize.

The moral, ladies and gentlemen? You control the keyboard. There is nothing that can’t be rewritten .



First, find love

Find a worthy someone to love and make them your first priority in life. Doing that puts everything else in life into perspective – you will better survive both your successes and failures elsewhere.



(The writer heads the Energy Practice Group at Rath, Young & Pignatelli in Concord.)

Don’t write anyone off

My best advice to anyone graduating and entering “adult life” is to remember that everyone has value.

You will find many, many people who irritate or annoy you on a day-to-day basis but that person who most annoys you today could become your greatest ally or advocate tomorrow. Likewise the person you think is brilliant and you most want to work side by side with at this moment could turn around and become a major foe in one of your dearest causes in the future.

Therefore, never write anyone off and never alienate a person over one small disagreement. As Scarlett O’Hara said in Gone With the Wind, “After all tomorrow is another day.”



Slow it down!

When I was graduating, I wish someone had told me to slow down. Most of us are in too much of a hurry to really practice the art of listening, being fully present in a conversation. Take a moment to empathize with the person you’re speaking with, really imagine yourself in his or her shoes, and you’ll both be better off. Write emails (or texts or social media updates) thoughtfully, and wait to send them until you’re sure you’ve said just what you mean. Try pausing before you speak for the same reason. Practice considering what really needs to be done each day and let go of what’s mindless or unnecessary or what everyone does. When I graduated, I believed successful people accomplished more, so I multitasked, said yes to every opportunity, and took on more and more. My effort to squeeze the most into each day, rather than making me more productive, made me less focused, less attentive, less patient, even less compassionate and less available to my loved ones. I’ve tried to be more mindful and intentional, to do less more meaningfully, to listen better. I’d probably be better at this if I’d started at your age.



(The author is a writer and librarian.)

20th-century advice

Here’s a short list of advice from my father (1908-1989):

∎ Blessed are those who desire nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.

∎ The best you can hope for in life is to be left alone.

∎ Close the door. Were you brought up in a barn?

∎ Shut the TV off if you’re not watching it. Do you think we work for the electric company?

∎ Don’t leave the water running. Do you think we work for the water company?

∎ Don’t spend money that isn’t in your pocket.

∎ All cars are basically Plymouths.

∎ Buy a record and you have a concert for a lifetime.

∎ Don’t pull someone else’s lobster pots.

∎ Pound a nail through your hand when you get up each morning, and the rest of the day won’t feel so bad.

∎ Get up and go to church. Church is good for you.

∎ Go out and get a job. Work is good for you.

∎ Go get the snow shovel. Cold is good for you.



(The writer is a recovering corporate American.)

Expose yourself to what wretches feel

To all you graduates of the Class of 2013 heading into the Great Beyond, I offer the following line from William Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel.”

It might seem like an odd bit of advice on this joyous occasion – feel what wretches feel.

The biggest deficit we face today is not in our economy. It is emotional. It is our lack of feeling for our fellow humans, animals and the planet.

The playwright Julian Beck wrote that if we would really feel, the pain would be so great we would stop all the suffering at once. I would urge something considerably more modest.

As you set out on your individual journeys, try putting yourself in the position of the other. Imagine their feelings and feel them. That habit might lead you down some surprising, unforeseen paths that will enrich your life.

When my son Josh sings, he always talks about feeling the music. My advice is a variation on that theme. Feeling the pain around you will put you in touch with some universal blues, and it will place you closer to the heart of humanity. Try it.



(The writer is an administrative law judge. His piece reflects his own views and not those of his employer, the Social Security Administration.)

It’ll change your life

At this juncture in your life between childhood and adulthood, there seems to be a universal law of nature: There will be something (a book, an event, a poem) or someone (a professor, a fellow student, a relative, a random person) who will forever alter your life.

My advice is to open yourself and actively search for it. The catch is that only in hindsight, when you are much older, will you know what it was. The indulgence of being an 18-year-old is that there are no failures, only life experiences.



Embrace failure!

To the students assembled here – to the overachievers, the underachievers, the B students and the handful of home-schooled kids who snuck in – congratulations on your accomplishments.

Your parents are smiling today, but deep inside they’re terrified – terrified you’ll never leave their basement, squander their money by majoring in sociology, or utter the dreaded phrase, “Can I borrow $30 grand for clown college?”

So give them a hug, and then make plans to find your own place by Labor Day. They’ll thank you for it later, and Thanksgiving will be lots more fun.

But my real message today is simple: Embrace failure. Each one of you will fail at some point. Don’t hope for it but do expect it. At least once in your life, you’re gonna get fired, be flat broke, get passed over for a promotion, have your heart broken, lose a friend, gain 30 pounds, miss the last shot, order the sweet potato fries by accident, pay too much for a bad haircut or realize your juggling professor just doesn’t like you.

And it’s okay. Your life is a picture book filled with thousands of photos, each with its own caption. You’ve been making this picture book for the past 18 years and will continue making it for the next 70, and some pictures will show you at your worst. As you leave here today, remember that successful people are the ones who learn to write the best captions.



(The writer is a Sunday Monitor columnist.)

Go explore

Explore the world. Don’t be hemmed in by the borders of your neighborhood, city, state or country. Travel is often easiest when you’re young, when the demands of family life are still in the future. Put on a backpack and go. Keep an open mind and open heart, and learn everything you can about how people in other countries live, think and laugh. This is how you gain perspective and develop your own sense right and wrong, a set of universal values that will last you a lifetime. If you can’t travel to foreign lands, look around and seek the friendship of a person who has immigrated from another country – a person of different color or creed, someone who doesn’t dress or speak like you. Learn about their culture, how they came to be here, what they see in America, what they see in you.

You’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself by learning about others.



(The writer is a Sunday Monitor travel columnist.)

Not so clueless

One word: plastics. (Not new advice; I believe this was passed to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.)

All seriousness aside, me, I pretty much got nothin’. Except, I am sure they’ll discover their teachers were not nearly as clueless as they thought. But they’ll have to find that out for themselves.


Palm Bay, Fla.

(The writer graduated from Concord High School in 1958.)

Be content, not complacent

Congratulations! If you’re headed to higher education, learn something. Your diploma is an expensive signal to future employers that you didn’t screw up too badly in high school. Whether or not you actually learn anything useful is up to you. Challenge yourself.

Attendance counts. You will be judged on your clothes, hair, piercings and attitude. Choose carefully.

You will rarely, if ever, make as much money as you think you deserve. If you hate your job, get better at it. Excellence is more fun than mediocrity, and it often pays better. And even if you love your job, you’re not going to love it every day.

Be content, but never complacent.

Learn to be a better writer every year. Writing is a keystone skill. Clear writing is evidence of clear thinking.

Your generation will rely less on big companies to give you a job, and more on yourselves to carve out value in the market. Find something people want, and get great at providing it. The modern economy holds growing challenges, but endless possibilities if you take control of your own career.



(The writer is a Sunday Monitor columnist.)

Follow your heart

‘Follow your heart” may be a cliché, but they truly are words to heed. If you enroll in a college or trade school or take a job that doesn’t feel right, transfer or move on to something else. If you pursue a career and later find your heart isn’t in it, figure out what makes your heart soar and do that. You will spend a great deal of your life working. Don’t simply follow money or do what others tell you to do. Do what will make you happy. At the same time, however, remember that no one has ever approached the end of their life regretting that they didn’t work more. Do what you love to do, but don’t do it at the expense of or while neglecting your family and other loved ones.



Be brave

Don’t let your lives be paralyzed by fear – fear of danger, fear of failure, especially of humiliation in front of others.

I missed a great career opportunity when I joined the Air Force. I was fascinated by languages and knew about the language programs offered by the various armed forces. But I had a D in high school Latin (didn’t study much) and another D in first-semester college Russian. (I partied and cut class for three weeks! Lucky to pass.)

In the Air Force, I had a contract to play in the band – fun, and a nice, safe job. But a friend of mine went to Russian school at the University of Indiana, and after a year he had a college major in Russian and could speak the language fluently. But I didn’t try for language school because I was afraid I would look stupid if I got in.

As it turned out, I have a talent for language learning. I became fluent in Spanish when I was older than 60, and started Biblical Hebrew at 70. But I could have done a lot more when I was 20!

And I ended up with a career teaching linguistics. Imagine the advantage that knowing Russian would have given me!



Five suggestions

Congrats on reaching 18. Your parents are no longer responsible for you. You are. Here’s my advice. First, finish high school and pursue a career. Life is about productive work. There is a lie floating around that you are entitled to easy living. That’s BS. If you have the aptitude, work on a college degree, but a warning: Our society is selling you a stupid silly line about immense college debt being okay. It’s not. Work hard and spend less then you earn. Be realistic about where future jobs are. Two that stand out are IT and truck driving. Both are in high demand. Both pay pretty well. Second piece of advice: Don’t sleep around. You’ll likely get married someday and the less relational baggage you bring the better. Third, don’t get drunk. I loved Ronald Reagan, but it was a dumb move for him to raise the national drinking age to 21. Alcohol is a gift from God. Drunkenness is from hell. It’s illegal for you to drink at 18, but if you break that law, do it soberly. Fourth, ask old people for advice. They may not be smarter but they’re wiser. Finally, investigate Jesus. You’ll be surprised.



(The writer is pastor of the River of Grace Church in Concord.)

Try something new

If you’re college-bound, take at least one class each year in something you know nothing about, that fills no requirements for your major, something completely arbitrary. Never liked history? Find a great history professor and sign up for his or her specialty. Never acted? Take theater. Find friends who have an interest completely different from yours and take a class together in something they are really into.

If you’re looking for work, pick something off-beat. Volunteer someplace: a library, a nursing home, an AMC hut, then keep your ears open for paid opportunities. Try asking at a landscaping nursery or a moving company if they could use some help. Strike up a casual conversation with somebody who looks interesting and see where it goes.

Speaking of going, if you are thinking of traveling, go someplace nobody ever goes. Pick a random state and take the back roads. If you see something cool or strange, stop and check it out. Be impulsive. Talk to people. Follow signs. Be curious.

Because that’s how you discover parts of the world, and yourself, that you never knew existed. Life is an amazing smorgasbord. Don’t stall out on the pizza and French fries.



Don’t be afraid to flub

Contrary to what you might think, it is not in success but in failure where the real learning begins. So much in the world around us – in business, academics, sports, politics – is all about the success, the glory. But that is not the whole story.

Yes, doors will open automatically when there is accomplishment. But do not be afraid to fail. If something does not work out, use it as an opportunity. I am not saying “work harder,” for that is self-limiting. If something is worthwhile, try new ways to think about and approach the problem – thinking outside the box and perseverance will give you something of tremendous value in life.

Suppose, for example, that you are college-bound and failing a course. Instead of “woe is me,” say “What can I do differently to turn this around?” Compose a song about why you are failing. Send a YouTube video to your teacher; ask how can you make it work.

Character. Integrity. Steadfastness. Confidence. Personality. These traits will spring from your attempts. It will make you more interesting and attractive to others. Having a good character will help you in many ways. You will get a better job because you have experienced the creative side of failure.

This is what will bring you the greatest success for the rest of your life.



(The writer is a Sunday Monitor garden columnist.)

3 rules for success

A few years ago I had the privilege to interview Dr. Robert Martuza, chief of neurosurgery at Mass General Hospital for a project I was doing for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. I don’t remember how the topic came up in the interview or why, but somehow we got on the subject of words of wisdom. Now, over the years I have done lots of interviews, with the wise and the not so wise. But his simple observation has stayed with me and probably always will. He had three rules for success.

First, find what you like to do and have a passion for. Second, find someone to pay you to do it. Third, and most important, do them in that order.



(The writer is the owner of a video production company.)

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