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Dear Graduates, Put Your Online Superpowers to Work

06/02/2015 03:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016
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Kids these days. They don't know how easy they have it. When mine grumble about "doing research" for a school assignment, I roll my eyes and launch into a speech about the days B.G. (Before Google). Back then, I tell them, "doing research" required riding our bikes to the library, shuffling through a card catalogue (this takes some explaining), navigating rows and rows of books and then actually reading one or two of them. What used to take a week or more can now be accomplished in a few moments.

Unfortunately, I think the awesomeness of this technological superpower is lost on most graduates today, and who can blame them? In his book, Here Comes Everybody (2009), author Clay Shirky prophesizes about a day when digital technology becomes so ubiquitous that it becomes invisible. I think that day is here. So unless we tell kids they have superpowers at their fingertips, they might just graduate into a digital world that never capitalizes on its true potential.

I spend a lot of time teaching students about online safety, reputation management, cyberbullying, privacy and all that a jazz. Of course I hope that when they graduate they will remember every lesson, but frankly, I'd be satisfied if they remembered just the last one. This lesson sends them forth with these final reminders on how to deploy their online superpowers:

1. Post Thoughtfully. Be the best version of yourself online. Remember to only post things you won't mind the whole world seeing today and in 10 years. Or even 20. Think before you hit "send," and maybe even ask yourself, "Does the world really need another selfie?"

2. Use Your Voice. Today's technology renders every voice equal. This means whether you are a 100-year-old publishing conglomerate or an 18-year-old shrinking violet with a wifi connection, you have the power to reach vast audiences. So, use your voice to move mountains, end world hunger or to stop genocide. Things that will make the world a better place or that simply put someone having a bad day in a better place.

3. Keep Learning. Create an online network of people and organizations that constantly connect you to new things, new ideas and new possibilities. Things that will make you an improved version of yourself. Don't waste precious time on cyber-gossip or online trolls, or another cat video (OK, maybe we can make an exception on that last one). Remember, life is short. Spend it learning about and sharing something exciting or wonderful every day; you'll be amazed at the people you'll meet. Plus, your personal learning network will grow in the process.

4. Build Your Digital Resume. Whether you're graduating from middle school, high school or college, you will be judged, hired and befriended by your digital resume. So, keep an eye on it by doing a Google search of your name regularly and addressing any problems before they get out of hand. Maybe even blog about your interests or hobbies (it's free on Blogger.com). Consider buying online real estate (get a custom domain, a.k.a. a URL, of your name). Work on your online presence like you work on your baseball swing or your tan. It's an investment that will keep on growing.

5. Be Kind. Remember, the online world is populated by real people with real feelings (just listen to Monica Lewinsky's moving TED talk on this topic). So please be kind.

6. Be Like Superman. And finally, be like Peter Parker in Superman who says, "Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: 'With great power comes great responsibility.'"