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Dear graduate: Advice from 2019 commencement speeches

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As we find ourselves in the midst of graduation season, commencement speeches abound. From high school graduates to newly-formed doctors, and every graduate in between, now is the time for them to forge a path forward and start their lives beyond the classroom. Luckily for us, we have a lot of great advice at the ready for the graduates in our lives, and it comes from some pretty inspiring people. Get ready, graduates — this isn’t your average ‘Dear Abby” article.

The journey is more important than the destination

Our new graduates have goals and dreams too numerous to count. Savannah Guthrie, while speaking at the George Washington commencement ceremony, advised graduates to go out and pursue those goals and dreams with their whole hearts. However, she also advised graduates to remember that they shouldn’t worry so much, wishing that someone had told her that very piece of advice when she was younger. She stated that, of course, their goals are important, but, really, “the journey is the whole purpose.” Enjoy it while it lasts.

Small steps: Big results

Most (if not all) of our graduates want to change the world somehow. That task might seem a little daunting at first; the world, after all, is an awfully large place. But our graduates can start small to start working towards their goals, and in time, it will pay out. Even the smallest of changes can add up to make big differences in the world, or in the lives of the people around us. Oprah Winfrey might have said it best when she advised while speaking at the Colorado College graduation ceremony, “…you actually do get to transform the world every day by your actions. Small steps lead to big accomplishments.”

Finding a work-joy balance

It might be difficult, at times, to find the perfect balance between working hard for the future and enjoying the time that you have now. With so much pressure coming, it seems, from every direction, to find a career and be successful almost immediately, that’s a lot of stress to put on any newly graduated person. Katie Holmes, while addressing the University of Toledo in her home state of Ohio, offered some advice regarding this balance.

First, she reminds graduates that “…you are the person who’s going to go out there and make things happen for yourself.” No one else is going to make it happen, so it’s up to you to get started and work towards your dreams. But work isn’t everything; she immediately follows that piece of advice with another one. She tells graduates: “You deserve joy…So try to be equal parts tough and gentle with yourself.” Go out there and start chasing your dreams, but don’t forget to enjoy the time that you have now.

Don’t look for a ‘happy point,’ because there isn’t one

Among the many dreams and aspirations of new graduates, ‘being happy with their lives’ is probably one of the goals most of them have in common. A lot of us are probably guilty of the same thing that many of our graduates will do: they’ll start making a sort of happiness checklist. Once they get the next degree, or buy a house, or get married, or adopt another dog, that’s when they’ll be happy.

But Jennifer Garner (in between lighter pieces of advice, such as recommendations for Halloween costumes and the importance of sunscreen), warns against this kind of happiness checklist. She tells graduates, that while they’re waiting to get to the ‘happy point’ in their lives, “…your life is happening.” Instead of waiting for certain criteria to be met, find happiness in the things around you. “Happiness is your own responsibility, so attack it.”

Get positive

In a world where so much negativity abounds, it can be difficult to stay positive. Pharrell Williams, in terms reminiscent of his hit song “Happy,” advised graduates from the University of Virginia to not only stay positive but spread positivity in the world as they went out to begin their lives outside the classroom. “Positivity,” he said, “is something that we should bottle up, because the world as we know it, and we see it, needs it.” Use it as a weapon to make the world a better place. We most certainly need it.

You are you; embrace it

Some people may worry that, now that they’re done with school, it’s time to become a cog in the machine of the workplace; but this simply isn’t true. Now is the time, rather, to continue embracing who you are, and to use your unique personality to change the world for the better. At the commencement ceremony for the College of William & Mary, Glenn Close spoke on this very topic, encouraging graduates to embrace their uniqueness and use it for the better. She told them: “Your perspective is unique. It’s important and it counts… Accept it. Believe in it. Nurture it.”

Don’t define your success by others’ standards

In a world where we can keep up with just about everybody in our lives (and out of our lives, as we follow celebrities and politicians all day long) on social media, it’s hard not to compare yourself to the people around you. It’s even harder when the people around you are telling you what you need to be successful; a certain kind of job, a certain relationship, a certain housing situation…the list goes on. Karamo Brown, Queer Eye star and mentor extraordinaire, offers some advice for just such a predicament.

While speaking to graduates of Chaffey College, he says: “I remember my mentor telling me that as long as I am making myself happy and proud, I am a success”. You should define your success by your own standards, and focus more on making yourselfhappy and proud, rather than trying to please others. He adds: “My destiny is determined by me,” encouraging graduates to make their own choices, follow their own dreams and passions, and live their own lives.

So, dear graduate: good luck out there.

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