To the Class of 2015:
It has been a pleasure and an honor to get to know you. You are a class of thoughtful and savvy young men and women who, I feel confident, are equipped to enter adulthood with the tools required to learn, lead, and make a positive difference. I will savor the opportunity to learn of your successes in the forthcoming years.
Over time in different schools, I have felt the increasing urge to share unsolicited advice with graduating seniors. You are the fifteenth batch of young ‘uns that I have seen fly away from high school in my career. Perhaps I have grown wiser over the years and have more to share. Or, perhaps, as I have seen often from older men, I have become less concerned about whether or not my audience actually wants to hear the stories that I have to tell and will share them anyway.
With that said, here are a few of my thoughts:
1) If you do your job, you will have a lot more than a degree from your four years of college. The developmental period from age 18-22 provides an opportunity for you to develop life-long relationships. Congratulations! According to psychologists, you have now achieved your own sense of identity (or almost have). Now is the time to develop relationships with peers and non-parental adult mentors that you will be able to leverage for the rest of your life. As you age, you will have fewer and deeper friendships than you have now.
2) A corollary to the first point: there is no need to take more than four years in college. Seriously. Begin with the end in mind. Be efficient. Meandering through six or more years of college is a waste of time and money, and is a red flag to future employers.
3) Keep a level head. College will provide many opportunities to challenge the moral compass that you have developed. In my career, I have seen college freshmen return home with a fistful of “F” and no back-up plan because they could not manage the freedom of college. Don’t be that guy. Nuff said?
4) Find your passion and pursue it. I have known successful CEOs who majored in history; lawyers who majored in theatre; doctors who majored in English; teachers who majored in business. Your success in life has less to do with what you study and more about how you approach learning. To that end, if you can garner some applied work experience, that will put you ahead of the game.
5) Find mentors. Find people who are doing what you want to do and get to know them. What got them to where they are now? Don’t start doing this in your second semester of your senior year of college when they will think that you are just looking for a job.
6) Take at least one course that is completely outside of your major. Steve Jobs (who never graduated from college; don’t follow his model.) took a calligraphy course at Reed College in 1972. This was the inspiration for the fonts that we now have as options in word processing programs. It earned him countless millions of dollars.
7) Work on your face-to-face people skills. You are a sociable group of young people; I am not being critical. However, you are in a generation of people who hide behind texts and emails to express important and delicate messages. One of the biggest complaints that I have heard from employers of recent college graduates is that they can’t find effective communicators.
8) Work on your writing skills. Similar sentiment as above. Nothing makes me throw away a resumé and cover letter from a potential employee more quickly than bad writing. Frankly, even one grammatical error will do it in most cases. Along these lines, a hand-written note following an interview will instantly put you ahead of 80% of the pack in my estimation.
9) Avoid debt. However you fund college, avoid debt as much as possible. You will have a lot more fun and opportunity in your twenties if you are not burdened with paying off huge college loans.
10) Complete your education before starting a family. I know that the thought of starting a family is pretty far from your minds at this point, so flag this point for later. However, please know that it is exponentially more complex to complete a college or a graduate degree with little ones in the house.
11) Visit your Alma Mater. OK. This one is a little self-serving. However, please know that you will always have a home at Brookwood. Also, the greatest reward that you can give a former teacher is to visit years later and let that teacher know the influence that they had on your life. It’s what fuels our professional souls.
In closing, I lament that we had only one year together. While I feel that I have gotten to know you, I wish that I’d had more time to develop our relationship and to see you grow. While I will increasingly have that opportunity with successive classes of graduating seniors from Brookwood, you will always have the very special place in my heart as being my first class of Brookwood Seniors.
Dr. Randy Watts