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5 Things Every College Senior Should Know, But Won't Hear at Graduation

Graduation caps

Let the clichés fall where they may this graduation season

Graduation season is upon us, which means the commencement speech clichés can commence.

Some advice heard from the stage at college graduations is usually more inspirational than others (“Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try,” Sheryl Sandberg said).

Some advice is funnier than others (“Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along,” Stephen Colbert said.)

Some advice is just good sense (“Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen,” said Conan O’Brien).

With that, Charles Wheelan has a book coming out on May 7, “10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said,” in which he writes about how “saccharine and over-optimistic words of the typical commencement address hold few of the lessons young people really need to hear about what lies ahead.”

So he’s written what he would have liked to have heard at his own commencement ceremony in 1988 that he thinks still rings true today. Here are five of the points he’d like to make to college graduates before they head out of school and into the world later this spring:

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  • Don’t model your life after a circus animal 1 of 5
    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."
  • Read obituaries 2 of 5
    Read obituaries
    "They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives."
  • Your parents don’t want what is best for you 3 of 5
    Your parents don't want what is best for you
    "They want what is good for you, which isn't always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy's mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer."
  • Some of your worst days lie ahead 4 of 5
    Some of your worst days lie ahead
    "Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I'll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire."
  • Marry someone smarter than you are 5 of 5
    Marry someone smarter than you are
    "When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a "spouse with benefits" is different from having a "friend with benefits.") You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!"

For 5 more things Charles Wheelan would like college graduates to hear, go here.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Photo credits: iStock

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