If You're Graduating, or Know a Graduate ...

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For April 2 Weekender, 2016

Some Advice for Graduates

David W. Hegg

With April here and Spring Break behind us, many students are forced to think about what comes next. In a few short weeks as graduation hits, life will grow more real and much more complicated. High School seniors will face the challenges of college life while college graduates step into the real world with its adult expectations and demands. Over the past decade many have missed the chance to succeed in the next realm simply because they didn’t take it seriously.  It may seem a bit early for this kind of advice, but there are some who need to start thinking about life as it really is. If you are a student, or have some influence in a student’s life, here is some advice for being successful in college and beyond.

Have a Plan: Building a successful life and career begins with an understanding that what you do today will determine the options you have tomorrow. Think seriously about what skills and passions you have developed, and get solid counsel from those who know you as to which educational paths follow. Also consider the financial costs of pursuing higher education. For many, starting at a junior college to fulfill your general requirements can allow you to earn your degree without building a mountain of college debt. Above all, think things through, and have a plan. Even if you need to alter it at some point, you’ll be better off than those who ran ahead blindly.

Develop a Good Work Ethic: No matter what you end up studying, or pursuing as a career, there is no substitute for hard work. Never settle for “good enough” because it hardly ever is. Employers aren’t looking for average, they’re looking for great, and often is desire and perseverance, not brilliance, that creates success. Decide early not to be common. Develop the ability to work hard, and get the job done well, whether it is in the classroom, or on the job. 

Tip: Getting a part-time job during your college years has many advantages. First, it can provide the money you’ll need for college and daily expenses. Second, it will give you the opportunity to show a consistent work ethic. Lastly, when you start interviewing for your first post-college job, prospective employers will see you have already demonstrated the ability to get and keep a job.

Develop Great Character: College may equip you with an education, but character will determine your success in life. In the long run, who you are will always be more important than what you can do. Learn to be honest, in every area of life. Be a person who tells the truth, both to yourself, and to others. Earn a reputation for being trustworthy. Be the one others can count on without any doubt. Develop the ability to listen, act courteously, and show kindness. In other words, be the kind of person those you admire will want to have around them in the years to come.

Value Relationships: Someone has rightly said “the best things in life aren’t things.” Ask those of us in the last half of life and we’ll tell you good friends are the greatest currency. Possessions and positions may come and go, but people who will stand with you, and by you, are the most valuable treasure you can own. Good friends walk in when everyone else is walking out, and we all need them. But, to have good friends, you’ll need to be a good friend. You’ll need to care about others deeply, even sacrificially. But whatever price you pay for life-long friendship, it will still be a bargain.

Fear Debt: I know this isn’t fashionable today, but my advice is to fear debt. Don’t love it, and don’t use it. I’m not talking about credit cards, although they can get you into big trouble as well. My concern here is the amount of debt the average college graduate accumulates today. It is not unusual for college graduates to come out with over $50,000 worth of debt, and many have $80,000-$100,000 in student loans. Remember, every dime you borrow has to be paid back, with interest. Few things put a crushing burden on a young wage earner or new marriage like massive debt. Don’t do it.

In my world I have a front row seat on the lives of the next generation. Many are sharp, and ready to take their place as leaders in the home, marketplace, and the public sector. But too many fail to reach their potential simply because they wake up too late to the fact that life doesn’t own them anything. To be successful you have to take life by the horns, learn the hard lessons, do the hard work, and persevere through adversity. But above all else, success begins with being a person of value, whose character puts you at the head of the class.