This week is high school graduation week up here in Anchorage, so I decided to take Steve’s (Think Save Retire) challenge to write a commencement address to college graduates. And now, we will hear from Maggie Banks (round of applause):
Hello Students! Take a minute to look around. There are a lot of you. You’ll notice you’re all sitting together and you’re all wearing the same thing and at the end of this speech, you’ll each get the very same piece of paper. Despite this moment of convergence, each of your paths to this precise moment have been completely different. Some of you barely made it to this moment. You took out loans. You worked. You studied. You pulled those grades up. You retook that class. And you did it. You’re here! For others, the path was easier. The cost of college wasn’t a huge burden and you’re graduating without debt. Finances aside, maybe you breezed through classes and this day came only at the end of a series of accomplishments.
After this one moment where you look the same, your lives will again follow very different paths. Let me give you some advice that will apply to all of you:
- First, Focus on the Good Grade. I know, you’ve spent your whole life (and maybe quite a bit of the last semester!) focusing on the bad grades. You had to bring those grades up to graduate. When you were younger and you brought home a report card with an A in Math and a C in English, which one did your parents mention first? But now that you’re wearing the square hat, the grades no longer matter. The fact that you got that A in Math is the most important thing. Focus on that. It’s what you’re good at. Knowing what your true skills are will be important. Sure, you’re probably proficient at a lot of things now. But what comes the most naturally?
- Second, Think Outside the System. You have all just navigated the complicated structure of university education. I hope by now you’ve realized that while you leave this university with a piece of paper stating your chosen degree, education does not only exist within this system. Education is everywhere and your schooling doesn’t stop once you leave school. Read. Study. Write. Calculate. Learn new skills. Each thing you learn opens up your world. Don’t stop learning.
- Third, Employment is a System. Just as education doesn’t only exist inside the university, employment is more fluid now than it has ever been. Employers are realizing the advantages of focusing on your natural skills. You can also work for yourself. Both is an option as well. Know this: You only have to work as long as you decide. 65 isn’t the “normal” age anymore. This lead us to number 4:
- Get Control Over Your Finances ASAP! – You are starting from very little. Any income will most likely be an increase! Use that to your advantage. Live off just slightly more than you are right now and put the rest toward savings and paying down your debts. As soon as you figure out how much you REALLY need to live on, you can start to calculate how many years it will take to be able to take money out of the picture entirely. You are capable of retiring in ten years. Even if you don’t want to do that right now, your future self will be happy you chose to save so much. Save now.
- Fifth, Money Isn’t Everything: You are not on this earth to make money. You are here to experience joy. Focus on the joy. Some things aren’t worth the money. Don’t trade relationships for money. Don’t trade your own health and happiness for money. It’s not worth it. Money is a tool to help you experience more joy, but more money does not equal more joy. Find the balance.
- Number 6: Don’t be a Jerk: You know a jerk. You probably know lots of jerks. They’re not pleasant. They don’t make the world a better place. You don’t want to help them. Sometimes they succeed because they’re jerks. That’s not that way you want to succeed. Don’t be a jerk.
- Seventh, Wear Sunscreen. Maybe this reference is lost on you, but in my day, that was the ultimate advice to give at graduation. It was even put to music. Basically, my message here is: things don’t change because you’re an adult now. You know what is good and what is dumb. Choose the good. Wear your sunscreen. Wear your seat belt. Save your money. Don’t do drugs. Clean your room. Think of all the phrases your parents told you as kids. Do those.
- Lastly, Live gloriously. You get the choice, right now, to decide what you want to do. Don’t choose something because your parents want you to do that. Don’t choose something because the employment test told you it was a “good fit” or because your counselor told you it was a good choice. Think about what you REALLY want to do. If you only had one month to live, what would you do? What if you get five years? How would you allocate your time? Live that life now. There’s no second chance on your life and it’s too short to not jump in and live it gloriously! Good luck!