In Your Opinion: Advice To The Classes of 2016

By Michael D. Purzycki, Somerset.

On May 15, President Obama was scheduled to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2016 at Rutgers University. If it was like the commencement addresses that most people give, it encouraged graduates to aim high, pursue their passions, and believe that anything is achievable. If so, it may have been uplifting, but perhaps not too realistic.

I’ve always admired and respected President Obama, and I won’t try to compete with his oratorical skills. But in the hope of giving even a small amount of advice to people who are in the same position I was in seven years ago, I offer the class of 2016 the following suggestions as they move forward in their adult lives:

Avoid making assumptions about people. It’s easy to assume that you know a lot about a person based on where they came from, what school they went to, their gender, their ethnicity, their religion, or their political party. But while factors like these certainly influence people’s thoughts and behaviors, they don’t determine them. You’ll never know for certain what an individual is like unless you regard them as an individual.

Avoid praising yourself. People may tell you you’re smart, clever, well-spoken, or any number of other things. And maybe their praise is accurate. But you are not alone in having any of those characteristics, and it’s a mistake to think that being smart means automatic success in life. This is especially true if smarts come easily to you – the proudest achievements are often the ones that require the hardest struggles.

Don’t assume that your degree guarantees employment in a particular field. If, for example, you majored in political science, don’t take it for granted that a government agency or a think tank will want to hire you – when there are thousands of others with the same qualifications, you’ll have to distinguish yourself with real-world achievements, not just a piece of paper. This is a lesson that I, for one, learned the hard way.

Remember that words alone will not damage or destroy you. When somebody insults or offends you, you are under no obligation to agree with them. Eleanor Roosevelt put it best: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And if you’re tempted to lash out at someone who’s irritated or angered you, consider the consequences of your reaction. Even if you have a reason to be angry, other people are not guaranteed to see things your way. Believe me, it’s not easy, but sometimes the best reaction is to just breathe deeply and let an insult slide.

Finally, remember that whatever you’re going through, it’s temporary. Whether you’re on top of the world, or in the deepest depression of your life, things are not going to stay that way forever. When you’re flush with success, be generous to other people – you might need their help one day. If you’ve suffered a major setback, don’t panic – adversity is a terrific learning experience.

There are always things going on that you can’t control, and railing against them is usually not the best use of your time. You can do the most good, for yourself and for others, by recognizing what you’re really able to do, and doing it as well as you can.

Your Thoughts


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