College graduation season is upon us. For more than three million students across the country, it is a time of pride, joy and accomplishment. Undoubtedly, all graduates have heard this dictum more than once -- commencement is not the end of your education, it is merely the beginning of a new phase.
As graduates begin to follow their dreams and take their places in the world, I offer five top messages to help transition from school to life:
1) Keep learning throughout your life. While you have just completed all your coursework towards your degree, in the school of life, there is no end to learning -- it's a continuum. Stay open to novel and innovative ideas and experiences, and resolve to learn something new each day. As the president of the country's largest private institution under Jewish auspices, I point to the custom of Jewish scholars to study constantly. On the very day that the greatest rabbis complete the entire Talmud, they begin again from page one because there is always more to learn, a deeper understanding to gain and additional nuances to grasp. Leaders never stop learning. That is how they grow and encourage others to grow as well.
2) Aim high, but temper your expectations. As a toddler and young child, you think the world revolves around you. When you reach college, you realize there are many other smart people who also have plans to succeed. While you may not crush the competition in the academic or workplace environment, it's critically important that you find your unique purpose and path in life so you can accomplish what only you can achieve in this world. There is a story about the famous Jewish scholar Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, who was tearful as he lay on his deathbed. As the story goes, one of his students asked why he was crying. He responded that when he dies, he's not concerned that the gatekeepers of heaven will ask him why he wasn't as great as Moses or Abraham. Instead, he feared they would ask him why he was not as great as Zusha -- meaning that perhaps he may never have reached his own true potential. The lesson here is to aspire to become our best selves, because that is what is expected of us. In the end, we will not be measured against the achievements or success of another.
3) Do not be afraid to fail. Everyone fails -- even Steve Jobs, one of the finest minds of this generation, had great successes, but also monumental failures. Remember the Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV and the Apple III? Nobody else does, either. And yet, despite those setbacks -- and even once briefly losing control of his own company -- he learned from his failures and continued to create, invent and innovate right up to his untimely death. Failing shouldn't stop you in your tracks. Instead, try to view failures as an opportunity to examine what went wrong, what could be different next time, learn from your mistakes and move ahead, stronger for the experience.
4) Be smart about social networking. Of course, a robust digital footprint and social media savvy are critically important for communication and career advancement in today's hyper-connected world, but a word of caution is in order. Everything you post online stays online forever for the world and future employers to see, so be judicious and responsible about what you choose to share.
Remember that even in the age of LinkedIn and Twitter, there is no substitute for true, real time relationships. Networking online has its limits and can help you advance only when coupled with personal connections. Invest the time and energy in the give and take that is so essential for developing truly meaningful social relationships on both the personal and professional levels.
5) Balance morality and self-interest. This may be the toughest message to actualize in real life, but also the most important. Everyone strives to contribute to society and lead a moral life, but so many of us spend so much of our time seeking to acquire material wealth. It may be true to a certain extent that happiness is correlated with financial stability, but the key is to find the middle ground. Don't let the pursuit of wealth consume most of your time and inner resources or cloud your moral judgment. Learn how to balance your own need for success with the needs of society at large so you can achieve both personal and communal goals. Rabbi Hillel encapsulated this vital duality when he said: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"
And so, graduates, enjoy this milestone, take the knowledge you have gained up to this point with you to the next phase, and open your eyes to the new learning experiences and opportunities that await you.