This is a copy of a letter I wrote to my nieces and nephew at their graduation. Since they claimed to enjoy my advice, I will publish this once a year around graduation time.
Dear Michele, Christine & Gabe:
Before I wrote this, I looked in a dictionary for the definition of the word “commencement”. The dictionary states commencement refers to “the act or process of bringing or being brought into existence; inauguration, inception, incipience, initiation, leadoff, birth, dawn, genesis, start”.Therefore, commencement suggests your lives are just beginning (and that is true in some respects). And by calling graduation ceremonies a “commencement”, our institutions of higher learning have sorta decreed you can’t really take that first step until they have conferred a degree on you. That’s somewhat presumptuous but I guess by promoting the necessity and value of a degree, the schools can make a buck too. And there is no law against that.
Essentially, I wish you two things: interesting people and interesting places. By that, I hope you find, see and keep both of those close to you for all your years. If you do that, you will lead rich, rewarding and fulfilling lives.
And try very hard to understand the primary goal in life is to get very old. I know you won’t agree with that statement right now but believe me you will one day. Put more simply, it is exhilarating to be both available and sufficiently lucid to give the eulogy at a friend’s funeral.
I know it is hard to resist the urge to follow the crowd. But do try to be your own person- so don’t routinely and rigidly adopt all of the latest fads and trends. Find music, books and other hobbies you enjoy and make time for them. Endeavor to be a leader to others. Christine, you are a born leader. And there is much evidence you were born with the ringleader gene. That’s the mischievous cousin of the leader gene. And that is a good thing- you love life and you show it.
Each of you should try to stand up for what you believe is right even:
When your opinion is unpopular·
When it’s not the easiest path to take and·
When you have not been right about anything in a very long time (cause the law of averages says everyone is right sooner or later).
You will be a part of many groups and organizations in the next 60-70 years. Don’t just go along for the ride. Give your best effort. Develop a reputation as an impact player. You can do that by making a strong personal impression and offering your support to the group’s goals (i.e unforgettable PARTAYS, improve annual sales, beat the Villa Gorillas every other year).
Never stop learning and never stop asking questions (there are almost no dumb questions). Set out to identify mentors and role models from whom you can learn valuable life and career lessons. A good mentor will be happy to freely give you career and life advice for years to come. Strive to be a role model yourself. Be generous to others with your time and knowledge. No one can leave much of true value in this world except those gifts you plant in the hearts and minds of those you leave behind.
Be open-minded and learn to think for yourself. Don’t be afraid to question the prevailing wisdom or latest news story. For example, a national news program recently ran a story that “the exercise done on Infomercials accounted for more than 50% of the total exercise done in America”. That “news” story first originated as a spoof in a satirical magazine. The news network picked it up as “real news”. I cringed and laughed when I heard it and wondered if any of you (had you worked on that program) would have thought to question the ridiculous premise. I believe each of you would have (Especially Gabe since he reads the magazine though until now he probably thought its “news” stories were legit).
Take very good care of yourself both physically and mentally. There is a time to party and a time to “not party”. Try to learn the difference way before you turn forty (so you can still run for President).You only get one chance in this world and life is much better when you are fit and ready to take advantage of all it offers. Make strenuous exercise a regular part of your routine and add a large helping of mental exercise and challenges to keep the mind in top shape. If you smoke, quit.
With regards to your career, as you know there is a secret to success. Unfortunately, it is a secret so I can’t share it with you. So, you will have to settle for my own priceless advice:
NO MARKETABLE SKILL= ZERO JOB OPPORTUNITIES= NO MONEY
MARKETABLE SKILL = JOB OPPORTUNITIES= PAYCHECK= REGULAR PARTAY
LOTTA MARKETABLE SKILLS= MORE JOB OPPORTUNITIES= MORE MONEY= REALLY BIG PARTAY
So what does that mean you ask? Just this. Be smart and work hard. Pick some marketable skills and develop those skills. Regularly polish, hone and improve those skills with practice and repetition. Enhance your skills with regular study and learning and MAYBE you will always have a job and make money. Ideally you will choose skills (as I said that are marketable) in jobs and professions where:·
You enjoy the work (i.e. barfly, world philosopher, expert recounter of Seinfeld episodes, social director for former dorm mates)·
It is in demand by employers and customers and·
You are good at it and like it.
It would be great if you could find a career that has all three of the above criteria, But you will survive and likely thrive even if you choose skills that only have two of the above criteria. And remember, there are no guarantees in life and life can be unfair. That’s just the way it is. Bitching about bad breaks won’t help. It will just make you very unpleasant to be around.
Be confident in your abilities and self-worth. Be persistent in pursuing what you want.Michele- with your focus and drive you could achieve anything you set your sights on. So set your sights high!Gabe, you could do anything. You just have to convince yourself you CAN do anything instead of finding reasons for why you can’t do something.
Remember you are most fortunate to have been born in this country. Though not without its faults, it is the greatest country on Earth.
Always honor and respect the elderly though I know it is especially hard when they don’t wear their hearing aids. Always value and cherish your family even when they ask a bazillion questions about your latest escapade. Remember where you came from, respect traditions, and perhaps start your own traditions.
Stay informed about current events - it makes you a more interesting person and give you a big edge on your peers. Be faithful to your core values and beliefs, your religion, your lover and one day your spouse.
You will make mistakes. Most mistakes are minor and can be fixed. However, try to avoid the really big mistakes (i.e always wear your seat belt). Observe other people and try to learn (and maybe get a good laugh) from their big mistakes.
But you also have to take risks in life. Without risk, there is little reward. Just do your homework before you take those risks.
Set priorities and establish goals and objectives- it makes life a bit more interesting to look back and see how you did.
And try to recognize the difference between what is important and what is not.You each have what it takes to be very happy and very successful. Keep that in mind and let the fun begin. Just know I’ll be watching you. Love and all the best to each of you,