To The Grads


As I write this it’s the time of the year when the media is highlighting the insights celebrities of politics, sports and entertainment provide to graduating classes. Add to that I had two grandchildren graduating from high school this year and it isn’t surprising this old man got to thinking about what I’d say to graduating classes.

Basically, I have three things I’d like graduates to understand. I will confess they are thoughts more applicable to people going out into what we out-of-date people call the “real world” than to people switching schools, but they may work for those as well.

The first is going to sound strange for people getting out of school. It’s get ready to learn!

I know you grads are looking forward to the end of test, papers, and pop quizzes and, hopefully, are eager to put all you’ve learned to use, but I hope you’ve picked up along the way that no matter how big the textbooks you waded through were, they didn’t contain everything you need to know to be successful.

I think of myself and the industry I chose to enter, the iron foundry industry, and sometimes get upset about how ill prepared I was for the “real world” and I’m even more upset that the graduates I’ve dealt with in recent years aren’t any more prepared than I was. I must rein in my displeasure with higher education a little when I realize the challenge they face. I graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering (I should point out fewer schools offer that degree now than when I went. It’s now materials engineering, something similar but an even broader area.) There were about 25 men in my graduating class. (No women – they were too smart for that back then.) Of the 25, I think there were 2 of us who ended up in foundries, and I was the only one in iron. How could I expect to be trained it what I needed to know by my university and have my classmates trained in wherever their paths took them?

Some graduates may feel my frustration and need for continued learning was because of the specialized nature of my career. To that I respond, I don’t think so! I cannot think of a single person I’ve talked to who said they came out of school completely prepared for what they had to do. I hope some careers are better prepared when it comes to coming out of school ready to do the job. I’d hate to think of a doctor being as unprepared as I felt I was.

So, don’t think you’re done with trying to learn things just because you’ve graduated. You’ll still be looking things up, checking with more experienced people in your field, and running “experiments” to see if you can solve the problems you will face. If you are anything like me, some of the things you’ll learn will surprise you and sometimes who is enhancing your knowledge.

Again, if you are like I was, you have spent most of your life with people who are similar to you. Your classmates and teachers may not be the same color you are, go to the same type of church you do, or have the same family structure as you, but the ones I hung with were more like me in that they were to some extent or other driven to succeed. They usually wanted to do their best in whatever they were doing.

That’s one of the things that shocked me as a young plant metallurgist. One of my foremen asked for help with an employee who was missing a lot of time. After reviewing his attendance records, the three of us sat in my office and I asked, “The records show you’re only working four days a week, is there a reason?” He must have been ready for the question because he answered almost immediately, “Because I can’t make it on three.”

I’ll admit I’d committed the sin of not knowing the answer to the question I’d asked before asking it. I certainly wasn’t prepared to deal with his answer at the time. It’s an exchange I’ve thought about many times in the 50 years plus since it happened. I think I have a better idea of why the man answered the way he did now, but I won’t bore you with my guesses.

What I do want to get across is that you’ll be dealing with people who look at things differently than what you are used to. You are going to have to deal with human nature that’s different from what you’ve dealt with in the past. If you’re like me, it won’t be easy learning. Motivating employees who weren’t motivated by what motivated me wasn’t easy especially since I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time.

So, now that you’re done with school and getting ready to start learning. My second piece of advice is know what you want to happen.

You really haven’t had much need for goal planning up until now. Your goals were pretty well established for you without much thought. Your goal each year was to get promoted to the next year. Some of you were more conscientious at goal setting than I was and may have set grade goals or extra curricula activity goals, but the big things were sort of set for you.

Now you’ll be starting a career where the path isn’t as well defined as your education was. My advice is whenever you start a new job, or even a new volunteer position, know what you want to happen.

While that sounds simple, it certainly isn’t easy. At least I hope it isn’t easy because there were many times in my career when I didn’t do it. I diluted myself into thinking when I started some of those, I didn’t know enough to know what I wanted to get done. Of course, it would have been helpful if the people who hired me told me, but I can’t really remember that ever happening.

What I do remember is that anytime I started a job, career wise or as a volunteer, with a specific idea of what I wanted to accomplish, it went far, far better than most of the other endeavors! Conversely, there were very few times when I started without a plan of what I wanted to accomplish that I considered the endeavor successful.

Finally, while you’re learning in new ways and deciding what you want to happen, there’s what I think is the most important piece of advice I can give: make sure to enjoy where you are! Again, it’s something that seems so obvious no one needs to hear it; however, I needed to hear it. There were far too many times when I should have heard it, or if I did, should have paid more attention.

It’s far too easy as you are striving to get where you want to be, make the money you desire, and accomplish your other goals to forget to enjoy what’s happening to you currently. I speak from experience. There were times when I thought the report I was working on was more important than going someplace with the family. I think the priorities are summed up by saying I can’t even remember what the report was about, but I still regret not spending more time enjoying life with my family and friends.

By the way, this reminder isn’t just for when you are graduating, I still tend to get wrapped up in my current project instead of merely enjoying where we are now.

So that’s my advice to you grads: be ready to learn, know what you want to accomplish when you start, and, most importantly, enjoy where you are during each stage of your life!

Good Luck!


As always I welcome comments!

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