Erik Hanson is a graduate student pursuing a master of public policy and Mustang Daily graduate columnist.
For some of you, graduation has finally arrived. And while this may be a time to celebrate with friends and family, inevitably, a few of these same acquaintances will feel compelled to bestow upon you their advice for your future.
Hopefully you have already seen the 1967 classic, “The Graduate.” In it, Dustin Hoffman’s character — Benjamin — gets pulled aside by a family friend to receive the following advice: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.”
At the time, that advice was very insightful; plastics revolutionized homemaking in the United States. However, as we now attempt to curb our use of plastics, other advice given to past graduates remains just as valid today as when it was first offered. Touching on the different aspects of one’s life, the following is some of the most enduring (and memorable) advice given to graduates over the years.
Learn how to think
David Foster Wallace was an American author. During a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, he said the following:
“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
Michael Dell is the founder of Dell. During a 2003 commencement speech at the University of Texas, he said the following:
“Don’t spend so much time trying to choose the perfect opportunity that you miss the right opportunity. Recognize that there will be failures, and acknowledge that there will be obstacles. But you will learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, for there is very little learning in success.”
Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During a 1941 speech at the Harrow School — an intermediate school in London — he said the following:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Set aside your worries
Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. In a 1997 column, she provided the following advice to graduates:
“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”
Russell Baker is an American author. During a 1995 commencement speech at Connecticut College, he said the following:
“Listen once in a while. It’s amazing what you can hear. On a hot summer day in the country you can hear the corn growing, the crack of a tin roof buckling under the power of the sun. In a real old-fashioned parlor silence so deep you can hear the dust settling on the velveteen settee, you might hear the footsteps of something sinister gaining on you, or a heart-stoppingly beautiful phrase from Mozart you haven’t heard since childhood, or the voice of somebody — now gone — whom you loved. Or sometime when you’re talking up a storm so brilliant, so charming that you can hardly believe how wonderful you are, pause just a moment and listen to yourself. It’s good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe, just maybe, you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamelessly foolishly.”
Jon Huntsman was the Governor of Utah and a U.S. Ambassador to China. During a 2011 commencement speech at the University of South Carolina, he said the following:
“Remember others. The greatest exercise for the human heart isn’t jogging or aerobics or weight lifting — it’s reaching down and lifting another up. Find a cause larger than yourself, then speak out and take action. Never let it be said that you were too timid or too weak to stand by your cause. Learn what it feels like to give 100 percent to others. It’ll change your life.”
Fearlessly pursue your passion
Last but not least — and part of a speech that most of you have probably already viewed online — Steve Jobs said the following during a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford:
“Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary … stay hungry, stay foolish.”
So take heed this graduation season, and ponder the advice that gets passed along to you. Much like the words of wisdom provided above, most good advice is based on another person’s time and experience, both of which are invaluable resources and gifts. And with any luck, someday you will be the one passing down some knowledge of your own to a recent college graduate.