Every year it happens, just the same, like turning our clocks back in November (unless you're in Arizona or Hawaii) or filing taxes in April. Come May, as the flowers being to bloom and Al Gore braces for climatic aberration, speakers wax poetic and espouse wisdom upon the graduates of the graduating class du jour. Everyone from Will Ferrell to Ellen DeGeneres (figured I'd at least pick the good ones for you) have taken to the stage at some of the nation's 4000-plus colleges and universities to tell the future of America what lies ahead and the challenges unfurling in front of them. That's a lot of commencement speeches! Most of these speeches and parables are a far cry from David Foster Wallace's greatest commencement speech ever, but there is no shortage of people with stories to tell a stadium full of mortarboards. And if that wasn't enough, countless articles are written on bridging the gap between higher education and employment, from the big guys at The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post to blog posts over at The New York Times and Her Campus. As someone with both the taste of college still on my lips and the crudely drafted road map of my life sitting out on the table, I decided I may as well join the thousands of others with things to say.
I'm not going to lie: Knowing a new class had to leave the fantasy world that is college, I had some serious pangs of longing for the days when an alarm clock was a suggestion, not an ultimatum and hard work could be validated with something as simple as a letter and a plus or minus symbol. And while the world was enraptured with Facebook's stagnant IPO, I was envying Facebook photos -- those of soon-to-be-graduates frolicking through the streets, smiles on their faces, red Solo cups in hand, one of the last times that they and their friends would truly be together as undergraduates. My stomach knotted and right then I wanted to go back to it all. But then I realized I was getting paid to be working out in California for the week and after leaving the office at 6:30 I would be driving golf balls into the California sunshine. On my two-year anniversary of receiving my diploma, which still sits in its envelope on my desk, waiting to be framed, here's the moral of the story: You're ready for the world Class of 2012, and as hard as it is to leave school, you're going to like what you find out here, challenges and all, and hopefully challenges especially.
Sure, it's probably likely that you are going to have student loans to pay off. And job offers aren't being doled out like hot cakes these days, but whether it takes you a day or decade, the right job is out there for you. You probably spent three years selecting a major, so the job of your dreams doesn't necessarily have to fall into your lap the moment you sign your first offer letter. College was a time for personal growth, where you could mix and mingle from the buffet of classes, people, events, bars, etc. And while you enter one of the longest nadirs of unemployment and economic turmoil, post-college is still, as it always has been, the time to focus on building the career you want, locating the place you want to settle, finding the "other" that you want to be "significant," and maybe even making the world a little bit better. And you're still going to grow! There are classes, people, events, bars, etc. in the real world too! Even if you have no clue what you want to do yet, you'll make it out the other side on your feet; that was the whole purpose of the two- or four-year (or more) endeavor you just finished -- not necessarily to place you where you want to be, but to give you the tools to do that yourself. And to allow you to grow more!
But then there's this... After you walk across the stage and accept your diploma, there is a question you need to keep in mind and an answer for yourself when things get rough (and they will): What great things have come from being comfortable?
Life's not sunshine and rainbows and we'd all be worse off if it was. Challenges force us to succeed. My friend just left his job at Google, a job most people would kill for, because he felt like his risk for failure wasn't great enough. Now he's building a start-up with a handful of other people. Another friend is splitting his time working his government job, while investing his free time developing his pet project, a college Wikipedia targeting people still living the college dream and those who are just waking up from it. And yet another just up and left for Rio to join a market research start-up that connects the underprivileged to government, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), and corporate services through data collection. And this is exactly the type of attitude new graduates need to have and graduates of old need to remember. That risk-taking, hard work and devotion is the path to accomplish your goals and with your back against the wall there is no other option but to fight (or deal) your way forward. It took me six months to find a job after graduation. It's taken friends of mine over a year. I have family members that are still out of work. But why always look at this in a depressing light? Statistics never cured polio or built the combustion engine and even after a fire, a forest will grow back fuller. Don't be scared by the prospects of our economy, take the knowledge you learned getting your diploma and the experiences you've gained and leave the comfort you're in for the life you want. You don't have to do anything drastic, but you never have to stop moving your feet and looking for your next big thing even when you're alright with the view you have right now. Be uncomfortable, not discouraged.
Sitting in the library or swiping a student ID to get a meal at a dining hall, it's hard for most to see the thrill and challenge of carving out a life after the neat and ordered constructs of college are removed. Class of 2012, the world is expecting you to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess you've inherited. his has been expected of every class, every year, every May, going back to the first graduation in United States at Harvard University. Here's what's really expected of you to find out for yourselves: That even though it's sad to leave the familiar, the world is still big and has a place for you wherever and whenever you find it and the challenges you are to face are only going to be the doors that open into that place. Follow the old adages: grab the bull by its horns... work hard play hard... live long and prosper. Follow my adage to make yourself as uncomfortable as you are comfortable getting. Or don't. The other great thing about graduating is that now you're free to do whatever you want, so stop reading this story and write your own. Congratulations and welcome to the other side Class of 2012. Buckle up because the ride's not over and even though it's going to have its bumps, you'll probably enjoy it just as much.