Advice for My Soon-to-be College Graduate

My Dearest Daughter,

You will graduate college in three weeks. You are smart, capable, and well positioned to embark upon an exciting phase of life; a new beginning that’s yours to define, develop, and live.

As I reflect back, however, to the day of my own graduation thirty years ago, there are many things now that I wish I had known then. So, I’d be remiss – a negligent parent – if I didn’t pass along some hard-learned advice.

(Note:  The following list was compiled with sage input from my father.)

  1. Be Mobile:  Come and go as you please. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to rely on others to get somewhere. Know when to drive your own car, hail a cab, travel by subway or train, or ride a bike. When you travel, be prepared with a full tank of gas, cash, and credit cards. Learn how to drive a car with a standard transmission and know how to change a tire. Take weekend trips to explore close by towns or states. Don’t be a couch potato and just hang out at home. Get out and explore your world!
  2. Exercise:  You must engage in regular, physical activity. (Especially if you’re stuck in an office all day.) Even if you are thin and fit, an ongoing routine is vital to your long-term good health. Take advantage of a myriad of options (i.e. walk, run, dance, play tennis, ski, take a self-defense course, etc.) and remember that you don’t necessarily need to join a gym or spend a lot of money to be active. If you get into good exercise habits now, you’ll reap the benefits later. (Your fifty-year-old self will thank you!)
  3. Eat Right:  Eat healthy foods, especially fish, nuts, and berries. Cook for yourself. Drink lots of water. You don’t need to frequent fancy restaurants or run out to buy the highest quality pots and pans to enjoy eating well.
  4. Primp:  Take care of your hair, nails, and skin. You will be judged by your appearance. If you are well groomed, people will see that you care about and take pride in yourself. Plus, you’ll feel confident. But be careful…manicures, pedicures, waxings, and facials become real expensive real quick.
  5. Be Safe and Alert:  Don’t walk dark streets alone. Keep your keys within quick and easy reach.  Carry mace in your purse. Have your mobile phone charged and on hand at all times. Be aware of your surroundings and note all nearby exits. Don’t be too trusting of others and be especially careful going out for drinks with guys you don’t know well!
  6. Establish, Develop, and Grow Your Skill Base:  This is the time to learn and try as much as possible. Given your youth, you’ll be given the benefit of the doubt if you don’t know something or screw up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from others. Don’t be a know-it-all! (Older people can’t stand young adults who act that way!) Learn from your mistakes. Education and skills development should be a never-ending process — be open and embracing of them.
  7. Manage Your Finances:  Open your own bank account and make the balance grow! Spend less than you make. Have only two credit cards (in your own name) and make sure to pay all bills in full and on time. Avoid late fees, finance charges, and interest payments! Discipline yourself to divide your income into three categories – about 5% for charity; 10% for a rainy day and/or emergencies; 10% to invest in your retirement; and the rest for daily living and entertainment expenses. (Trust me. These habits will pay off big-time when you’re my age!)
  8. Pace Yourself:  Earn your stripes. You don’t have to know, do or have everything all at once. Take your time and plan things to aspire or look forward to. Experiment and learn your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes.
  9. Shop Wisely:  The costs of trendy clothes, very seasonable items, or clothes that require dry cleaning add up quickly. Also, you don’t need to have the latest and greatest of every chochkie,gadget, and gizmo today!
  10. Work Hard and Play Hard:  All in due course. In the right time and place. Earn it and celebrate it. But, don’t do anything you’d be embarrassed to tell Baba and Zaydie about!
  11. Focus on What’s Important:  Have and show patience, humility, gratitude, compassion, enthusiasm, responsibility, trust, and integrity. Don’t be afraid to love; even if it’s not reciprocated. Never lie! It’ll come back and haunt you. These character traits will enable you to hold your head high, tell people who you are and what you’re about. Know your uncompromising “bottom line;” the lines you will not cross and the morals or values (especially your Jewish values!) you will not negotiate. Find the courage to stand your ground. Be okay with the fact that, while they may respect you, not everyone will like you.
  12. Don’t Forget:  Always know where you come from, who your friends are, who loves you, and that you can always come home.

This stuff isn’t easy. It sometimes takes years to accomplish all of this. It’s all kind of scary. But I know that you’re up for the challenges and opportunities. I have total faith in you. I am so proud of you. Most importantly, never forget how much I love you…

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