College graduation season is upon us. Next weekend, eligible students here at Coastal Carolina University will participate in commencement exercises as will countless other students from universities across the nation. Then, for the next several weekends that follow, scores of additional higher learning institutions will also hold graduation ceremonies. ‘Tis the season.
I graduated from college seven years ago. Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday, sometimes it feels like it has been much longer. One thing is for sure though, since 2009 I have sat through many commencement addresses while working for two different universities. The speakers I have listened to have all had polished, logical messages to deliver to the students.
While I am a couple degrees and many accomplishments short of ever giving a commencement address, I do have an idea of what I would say. Of course it would be much less elegant and much more brief than what the big wigs bring to the podium but hopefully my words would resonate with the young people sitting in front of me.
Like I said, it would be brief:
I would tell all the students who have not found jobs or won’t find one for the next year to not freak out. Sometimes finding that first opportunity takes a little time. Sooner or later, however, someone will call your name and put your skills to use. From that point on, you will be working for the better part of the rest of your life. While the days of post-graduation unemployment might seem long and depressing, stick in there! It won’t be forever.
To the students who have jobs secured and to the unemployed students who will be working soon enough, I would tell them to enjoy the start of their careers. It is fun to be a young professional. Enjoy learning the culture of the American workplace and discovering what it means to be a functioning member of society. No matter how small (or big) your starting salary is, savor that first paycheck and take time to tell yourself that you have made it.
I would stress to all graduating students the importance of building a personal brand. I would communicate that building a solid online profile will only help in future career moves. By all means, take the first couple of years to get acquainted with your position and with the professional environment in general. But know that each day you can improve yourself for your next journey just by staying current and engaged electronically. Embrace your digital footprint and do whatever you can to make it attractive whether it be starting a blog, maintaining strong social media accounts, or doing outstanding work that will get you recognized by media outlets and industry organizations with strong online presences.
Lastly, I would look at my audience of students and let them know that they have hit it big. Although the job market still isn’t the best and the economy is still struggling, I would tell everyone wearing a cap and gown to put it all in perspective. When it comes down to it, they are part of a very select group. Not only do they have the privilege of living in America but they also now hold a college degree. Billions of people on this planet wish they could only be so fortunate. With this understanding, I would tell the students that they can never legitimately consider themselves failures but at the same time they should strive to do whatever they can do maximize their potential. To those who much is given, much is expected.
I would then probably say “Don’t Blink” and walk off the stage. I wish nothing but the best to the 2016 college graduates. May your futures be bright. Don’t Blink.