Perspective: Advice for the newly graduated: Eat bacon, explore mountains (or valleys), take risks, don’t wait.
It’s graduation time. Thousands of Colorado high school and college students will toss their mortarboards skyward and begin the next leg of life’s journey. I don’t remember who gave the graduation speech at either commencement. The speakers may have bestowed pearls of wisdom, but I was most certainly daydreaming. Can I make up for it now?
Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich once observed that “Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who’d rather be Rollerblading.” In the spirit of her unforgettable advice to grads, here’s what I’d say to all those daydreamers.
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2018: Eat bacon. If for health or religious reasons you must eat the turkey or vegan variety, fine, but eat bacon. Preferably crispy. Take care of yourself but don’t obsess on your health. You’ve got more important things to do.
Go home and pack your bags. Move to New York City or Los Angeles or Nashville. Pursue a dream. Get out of your comfort zone. Join the Peace Corps. Work on an offshore oil rig. Teach art in a little school in the middle of Alaska. After graduation, I drove to Washington D.C. in a car that nearly didn’t make it and knocked on door after door until I got a job as a congressional aide. It was worth it.
You can always move home. Once you have a house and a family and backyard chickens, you can’t easily move away. So go while you can.
And don’t worry if you have what it takes. Perseverance and hard work matter more than talent or intelligence. Frankly, it doesn’t even matter where you went college. If you’re $100,000 in debt to an Ivy League university, I’m sorry to break that to you. If you graduated from a state school, don’t sweat the competition. You can make up through hard work whatever advantage an elite school degree has conferred to your peers.
Most dreams are achievable. Occasionally though you’ll come to a mountain that can’t be climbed, so explore the valley. A dead end can be a new beginning. Disappointments will come. Be resilient. Be open to new dreams.
Are you looking for a job that has an excellent salary and benefits, fosters creativity and personal growth, allows you to set your own hours, provides opportunities for advancement, promotes collaboration with amazing people, is secure over time, and enables you to impact the world in a deeply meaningful and positive way? Good luck. There isn’t one. Every job pays differently. Decide what’s important to you and seek it out. Don’t complain about your own decisions.
Memorize poetry, Shakespeare, and Scripture. The words will come to you when you’re weary. They will guide you through murky waters and raging storms.
Don’t be too certain of your own goodness. When there are cultural and legal incentives to act honorably most people will do so and pat themselves on the back. When the incentives turn, a great many people will conform to expectations. We’d like to think we would have been the ones to hide Jews and Tutsis from those who sought to murder them in cold blood. Don’t be so sure. Most people, ordinary people, cooperated or cowered. What makes so you different?
Cultivate internal incentives – virtues – to counterbalance external expectations. Be willing to sacrifice to stand up for what is right. There will be a price, but it won’t be regret.
Seek truth. Read the newspaper. Read books. Talk to people whose experience differs from your own. Travel. The human mind does not automatically seek truth but rather looks to confirm what it already believes to be true. Your Facebook feed is a small space. Escape it.
Finally, take a hike with a friend. Enjoy the beauty that is all around us. Volunteer. Go to a concert. Get an interesting hobby. Stop and smell the bacon.
A hiker takes a break in front of Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, (9,718 feet) in the Alps.