Typical advice: Go out there and find yourself...on the precipice of death, overlooking a valley of broken dreams, student loans, and tears.
I have graduated from high school, junior college, and university, so I have seen some graduation ceremonies. I also graduated from junior high, and there was a ceremony, but no one gave me advice on what to do with my life after that one, except maybe tone down the blue eyeshadow. I'm just going to figure it didn't count.
During my life I have gotten my real estate license (yes, really), worked in an art gallery, done sundry retail gigs, and been a certified substitute teacher for private and public schools.
I have also done some odds and ends here and there, such as seamstressing, editing a poetry journal, poetry writing, birthing and homeschooling my kids and.... oh, a bunch of other little things.
What I am trying to say is that no matter what I have done, or where I have gone, or which great height I have reached in my life — there has always been someone to meet me with more ridiculous and inapplicable advice for my life.
"Go into XYZ, you'll make a lot of money and have a good career that way!" Unless you are a fortune-telling-sorcerer-hedge-fund-manager, I don't see this. Just, no.
"Are you going to be a doctor? You should be a doctor." Are you a doctor? Because I have this thing on my foot that you should take a look at...no?
"So, what are you going to major in at college? I always wanted to major in computers." Ah, yes: "the computers." Very specific. What degree does a SysAdmin need again?
Graduation season is upon us, and I think it is only appropriate to give some non-sucky advice to the rascals who are about to embark on the world.
This just about sums it up.
1. Go for a future you want to build.
The entire point of being here, on a meta level, is to build a better future. You aren't going to be building a better future if you are living someone else's vision. What I mean is, if you want to go to college to study French Renaissance poetry... then by golly, do it! The worst advice I ever got was advice I actually took: go into real estate, or go into computers. I have passion for neither of these, and yet I actually got my real estate license — and I actually started taking computer programming classes in college. Neither of those two fields have anything to do with what I am interested in, and I hated them both. Hated them. Passionately. Because I was devoting my life to something I not only didn't love, but also felt pushed into. Nothing says passion for life like being pushed off a cliff.
I figured out, after a few years in community college, that I should probably focus on what I am good at in life — which is not computers or real estate. Not just what will fulfill someone else's dream of their vision of the future.
So I started taking writing and literature courses, found actual joy in life, and never looked back.
2. Do not discredit oddly-placed inspiration.
One quarter in college I had to take an anthropology class to meet an undergrad requirement, and it very quickly became my favorite class that semester.
After that, I found as many ways as possible to take anthropology classes to meet requirements for my degree. Linguistics, cultural anthropology, physical anthropology — I loved them all. Not enough to drop my major in literature, but certainly enough to have one anthropology class every quarter. I think I am 8 units away from having a minor in anthropology, which I would love to finish one day.
What I found was that the flow of anthropology courses was a way to keep a common thread going in my studies, which helped me keep on track of what I was studying. It was also a subject that I truly enjoyed, and brought inspiration to my studies and to my greater understanding of the world around me.
I never saw the glow of inspiration radiating off the Anthropology department before that, but it was certainly there after.
3. Conformity isn't going to help you get out of the box of groupthink allegiance.
I spent years writing essays on many literary subjects, from Marxism to feminism to reader response. These were definitely new philosophies for me to explore, and it took a while to really understand what a "different perspective" even meant.
The biggest take-away I have, after years of essay writing, is that the box is not your friend.
The box is what they built for us in school as a model for thinking. But once you are in college classes, it would behoove you to step outside of that box and start looking at subjects from other perspectives. This is going to give you the advantage over a mediocre B+ paper that gets most of the ideas correct, and a stellar A+ paper that fully understands the point of expanding the subject. High school writing might have appreciated interesting theses, but college is looking for people who are thinking different theses, all together, on a broader scale of understanding.
I'll give you an example: Frankenstein is not about a man. It is not man vs. machine. It isn't even man vs. man. It is about a grieving mother who lost every baby to whom she gave birth. The story is her ode to the failure of creating life. If you can read Frankenstein through that perspective, then you are on a good path.
4. Audit different classes in your free time.
I know that sounds weird, because school, but it is fantastic advice.
Auditing classes is free. You just sit there and take in the knowledge they are handing out. This will help you understand many subjects in different ways, and it will definitely give you the leg up on recognizing patterns in culture, economics, biology, literary movements, etc.
5. You need to relax.
I am more of a type A person than not, and it took me years to figure out how to relax.
There is time for work, there is time for hard work, there is going to be time for completely stressing out and losing your mind...
and then there will be time to relax. Take this time as seriously as you take your finals. The time you spend relaxing will be the time when your mind starts to unwind, and you will be able to think clearly again. This is the time when your creativity will unleash itself. You will start putting things together while you are relaxed, and when it is time to get back to work you will have an arsenal of new ideas to back you up.
So there you go! Good advice for the new grad!
Now go be amazing!