What Would You Tell a Graduate?

It’s graduation season.

Parties. Silly-looking hats. Transitions. Excited students, proud parents.

And advice—what would graduation be without words of wisdom from those who’ve gone before?

I’ve never been big on giving advice. Usually it’s a statement of “what I would do if I were in your shoes” when I’m not in your shoes. That sort of advice is cheap, since I don’t have to face the consequences of my proposed path. So mostly I prefer to share my experiences and let others learn what they can from my errors.

But a friend asked me the other day what two things I would tell someone who’s graduating. I’ve been thinking a lot about my response. I guess I’m intrigued by the challenge of distilling my thoughts into two big ideas.

So, here’s what I’d say if someone asked.

Do what’s right. I haven’t always followed the path of “right.” Even when I didn’t get caught, those are the choices I really regret.

This means doing the best right you can determine at the time. As you gain wisdom and experience you may look back and see better choices, but that’s just what learning is all about. You’re going to make mistakes, but if you do what you sincerely believe to be the right thing you’ll be able to look in the mirror with a peaceful heart.

Remember that just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do. “My rights” and “what’s right” will often take you down substantially different roads.

Too many people are paralyzed by the question “How can I know for sure what’s right?” The answer is that you can’t; that uncertainty is part of being human. If the path of right was always clearly marked, we wouldn’t value wisdom and experience so highly.

So seek guidance. Pray. Look deep inside.

But when it’s time to decide, do your best to do what’s right.

Do the right you know, and I believe you’ll learn the right you need to know.

Don’t make choices based on fear. Fear is our most powerful emotion. If you allow it to dictate, nothing else will matter. Fear will lead you to violate your most sacred, deeply-held principles and values.

Develop the discipline and habits required to identify and face your fears. While you may not like the potential external consequences of confronting fear, I promise you’ll hate even more the certain internal results of decisions that flow out of fear.

Choices that confront fear require courage, and a courageous life isn’t easy. However, a life ruled by fear is much more difficult.

Don’t beat yourself up for feeling afraid. Fear is a natural emotion, sometimes denoting real danger. So don’t deny or cover up your fear. Learn to distinguish the authentic threats from the imagined ones, and face them both appropriately.

Facing fear doesn’t mean taking unnecessary risks. Intentionally entering dangerous circumstances just to prove bravery isn’t courageous—it’s stupid.

But the right thing isn’t always the safe thing, either. Sometimes you have to choose between right and comfortable. Choosing right requires courage.

Courage is doing what’s right, regardless of risk to self. Gus Lee

Be gentle with yourself. (Okay, I know that makes three things. But it’s my advice.)

You’re going to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will have painful consequences for you and those you love. Forgive yourself, learn what you can, and move forward.


So that’s my advice right now. It’ll be interesting to re-visit this question in a year or two and see if anything’s changed.

What would YOU tell a graduate?
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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

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