This lesson was inspired by a four minute film segment on the Class of 2006, prepared and presented by NBC News with Brian Williams. The segment consisted of quick interviews of college grads from around the country as well as some words of wisdom given by many guest speakers, ranging from Billy Joel to President Bush at several graduation ceremonies. While watching this segment, I couldn’t help but have some nostalgic flashbacks from my own college graduation ceremony which occurred exactly 35 years ago.
There are several striking similarities that grads from 1971 and 2006 face such as our country being at war; the threats of terrorism; uncertainty of oil prices; and of course the age old question college grads always ask themselves “what am I going to do now that I’ve graduated?” Like today, back in 1971, most college grads returned home to live with their parents, until they could find a job; earn and save enough money; then set out living on their own. Starting salaries for college grads in 1971 were horrible compared to today. However the cost of living was low as well. Looking back now as a seasoned Dad and Grad of yesteryear, I would like to share some thoughts of lessons I’ve learned through the years, to pass on to the class of 2006.
The underlying message of most guest speakers at college commencements are usually to follow your dreams and do what you love to do. The unfortunate part of this worthy advice is that most recent grads are quite confused about their dreams and the direction they would like to follow – until they have a few years of work experience under their belts. Many graduates with teaching degrees never become teachers; just as graduates with history and psychology degrees never get a job in their specific fields of study. I knew a friend who graduated as an honor student in 1970 with a degree in aerospace engineering, one of the toughest curriculums he could have possibly enrolled in – who ended up pumping gasoline at a service station for his first few years after graduation. When he entered college in 1966, he choose a red hot curriculum that had lots of future promise – only to find that jobs in this career path cooled off by the time he graduated four years later. Unfortunately today many college grads end up flipping hamburgers or stocking shelves at Target – until they really begin to dream a bit and figure out what they want to do. This is not the best career path to follow.
My best advice to college grads today is not to sell yourself short by working at McDonald’s or Target; nor should you try to become a home run hitter during your first year out of school. Sure every graduate would love to make big money at their first job. But by turning down lower paying jobs in your field of study, you may turn down an opportunity to learn and grow in your field. One should never feel like a failure if you don’t receive a home run hitter’s salary as a rookie player. Instead, I believe it’s best to view your rookie years and career path as a latter that you must continually climb, to get the prize of the high hanging fruit at the top of the tree.
In the first few years out of college, I believe individuals need to accept entry level positions in their field and develop disciplines and skill levels that employers and later on share holders or investors will look for, in potential leaders. Whatever entry level position a grad accepts, he or she should take it seriously and work hard on themselves as well as on each assignment – to become the absolute best at that entry level position. That means ALWAYS being on time for every appointment; ALWAYS taking pride in their workmanship and completing every assignment ahead of time; and ALWAYS acting in a professional and courteous manner. If you read the biographies of CEO’s of companies who make multi-million dollar salaries today – that is how they usually started out in their careers.
Today’s grads need to realize that the lowest rung in the latter is not the most pleasant place to be. However exceptional performance of your assignments at rung number one will cut back on the time you spend there, en-route to moving up to rung number two. If you believe in capitalism, and there are many reasons to be a believer – this latter theory really works. As an employee for 10 years and an employer for 20, this advice always worked well for me. As an employer, I always had my eyes open for the next superstar that was on the first rung of the latter in my company. Employees who believe in the latter theory and work hard on themselves to develop the necessary disciplines and skills to climb to the next rung, always made the BEST employees in my company. They were as hungry as lions to succeed, at every rung of the latter. They had a purpose for each day – which was to get better at their position – so that they could handle the next position they were asked to take on. They realized that once they learned their present job – they needed to begin delegating and teaching others who could replace them at their current job – so that they could move up the latter faster. This advice not only worked for me. It also worked for the most famous of CEO’s like Jack Welsh of General Electric. It’s sound advice and will help develop the dreams that all those commencement speakers boast about. Good luck to the Class of 2006!