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In Theory: Sage advice for today's graduates

June 08, 2011

Q. It’s that time of year again, graduation season, when many of our youth are getting ready to leave the nest to live away from home for the first time in their lives.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our college-bound graduates when it comes to balancing experimentation and self-discovery with maintaining the integrity of their value systems?

In other words, how can a teenager remain open to personal growth through a range of new social and intellectual experiences while at the same time continue to “be themselves”?

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Finally, What should a parent say or do before he or she lets a son or daughter out the door?

Graduates today are sallying forth into a changed world. A New York Times article this spring said that the economic crisis has created a whole “Failure to Launch” generation of young adults, ages 18-29, who are un- or under-employed and/or living with their parents.

What’s it like to go off to college with your parents’ couch and a job at Starbucks waiting for you on the other side?

Gone, for the foreseeable future, are the bright “the world is your oyster” graduation speeches. It’s brutal out there for young adults and scary and a really hard era in which to be shaping your life.

So in the first part of my very odd graduation speech I’d say: “Try not to get paralyzed. I know it’s hard, but keep making decisions and moving forward as best you can.”

In the last 10 years I’ve known countless young people who just stall and freeze up. And they don’t realize that not making a decision is, in fact, making a decision, failure to act is an action with consequences, that windows and doors don’t stay open forever and that not going through this one now may close others to you later.

“I know it’s scary,” I’d say, “but don’t get paralyzed by fear.”

I’d talk about integrity, joy and hope — and how all these things are choices, too. You have to know your center to be solid about what’s important to you and to have a sense of yourself and your gifts that’s not dependent on what’s happening around you. You have to choose to be joyful and hopeful, not because life is handing you those things, but because it’s the person you want to be.

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