Charles Wheelan’s “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You”

I can honestly say that this is the first year in my entire life that I have not felt like I measured the year against a school calendar – May is here and it hadn’t crossed my mind once that students all over the world are wrapping up finals and getting ready to graduate. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this Charles Wheelan article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You” that I realized it’s graduation season.

I am so grateful that Wheelan put this together because I felt cheated out of a good commencement speech back in 2007. I’m pretty sure our speaker, a relatively famous politician, put “college graduation speech” into Google and picked the first thing he found. None of his words resonated or stayed with me that day, but I know Wheelan’s will ring true for me for many years to come.  Two of my favorites are below, and it’s not surprising that they focus on balance. You can enjoy the full list by clicking here.

3. Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

Yes, yes, yes! There is such a stress on finding a job even before you graduate from college and I don’t think that anyone ever told me, “Do what you believe in.” I heard plenty of advice like, “Do what you love!” but it’s unrealistic to expect that someone is going to pay me to travel the world for fun, go to the the beach, watch movies, and take naps every day. I know I’ll be a career-gal for a long while; the more time I spend working, the more I know that my job must line up with my morals and I am not afraid to sacrifice a higher salary for a more personally fulfilling job.

I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite – something I know I need to do a better job of keeping in mind since, as cliché as it sounds, time flies and life is short:

8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did – and on that note, good luck to the class of 2012!

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