R is for Relevant Advice for Graduates

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I am working on some other writing projects, so my alphabetical essays may feature old columns for a while… This one is from 2005. I bet you don’t remember it!
Maybe it will help you decide what to write in the card for the high school graduates in your life.

Was it only seven years ago my son's class of skinny, tubby, short, and gangly 6th graders started at Walden III School? This week I watched those same kids receive their ROPE medals. (ROPE is a yearlong class of oral exams and presentations each student makes to a committee of teachers and other adults, proving they learned what they were supposed to learn. Aren't you glad YOU don't have to do this?)

It seems just yesterday all the boys were short, all the girls were shrieking gigglers who traveled in little clots and bunches.

Where did these tall young men come from? And whoa.... When did they learn to smile like that?

When did we turn around for just a minute -- and when we turned back the girls had blossomed into wonderful young women filled with their own power and character?

When did we stop leading our children all the time -- and start leaning? Well, with our help or in spite of it, they have grown up.

I watched the graduating seniors this week, wondering this. What insight do I wish people had offered me back when I was a kid with future unrolling before me as empty and rich as a Dakota prairie?

I asked my 20-year old what advice she would pass on if she could. While we were talking, the 13-year old wandered by. (I bet you can pick out her snappy advice.)

• Learn to listen. Listening is not simply "not talking." It isn't the blank places in a conversation where you are deciding what your next story or response is going to be. It definitely isn't the lull before the verbal storm. Listening is turning your eyes to the person who's speaking, letting their words into your ears and mind. Pay attention as if that person were giving you directions to a lost treasure, on a tape that's about to self-destruct. If you love music, you may have this skill already. Listen to people around you as if what they are saying is lyrics not quite yet set to tune. Listening is everything. People are going to be telling you all sorts of essential stuff for years to come. Learn how to hear it.

• No matter what they tell you, high school might not have been the best years of your life. College might not be either. Hang in there.

• Always have at least one wearily respectable outfit for job interviews, funerals, and visiting older folks who faint at the sight of that part that shows when your pants are too low.

• Stay away from snapping turtles. Especially when you are wearing baggy pants.

• Go outside every day even if it's only to stand under a tree and watch it rain for 15 minutes. You need the vitamin D and you need the magic.

• Credit cards are dangerous. If you think your mom is a nag, boy, you don't want to know what collection agencies will do to the life formerly known as yours.

• Avoid saying "like" or "you know" to professors or bosses. It makes them not take you seriously.

• If you go to college, don't cut classes. You are paying $30 to $120 for each and every one of those babies. Get your money's worth.

• Make phone calls. Adult life is jammed with questions. Where should the scholarship people send their check? Why is the car shivering on hills? What time does the movie start? Does one have to know how to drive to apply for that job? When does the clinic offer free vaccinations? Would that attractive person ever-maybe-somehow talk to you?

• Don't wait around for your parents to make your calls. The early bird may get the worm but the person who makes phone calls gets a life.

• Get a job. If you haven't had one of these yet, by all means, get one now. It doesn't have to be a great job, anything legal that pays minimum wage is better than watching cartoons with your little brother. This is also true about going-nowhere jobs. The less money you make at a job, the more likely you are to work with people who have awesome stories. Once you've washed dishes with a grown man who is doing it as his third job so he can send money back to his family in another country, well, that will teach you something three majors in the humanities might never touch.

• When someone enters the room; roommate, sibling, parents, friends, your dog, look up and say hi.

You have a unique personality. Some kinds of people and situations will make you feel happy; others will make you feel inadequate, stupid, or worse. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you will be surprised how often in life you might forget.

Go after the amazing way it feels to be alive when your mind is engaged, time flies, and you smile just because the moment feels good. This is called the pursuit of happiness. Go for it.

Congratulations, Graduates. We're proud of you.


I don't remember ever reading this - prob haven't. Excellent - doesn't seem so long ago that we had some graduates at our house.


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