Graduation gift for the Class of 2017: A word to the wise

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By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

This is a message to the Class of 2017 – particularly graduates of color. By now you’ve heard commencement speakers, parents, teachers, friends, relatives, neighbors and complete strangers tell you what you MUST do to make it in the world. Well open up your minds and let one more old school brother offer a few thoughts for you to consider.

Let’s do this separately for those graduating high school and those who are completing college degrees. The messages are similar in places but different.

First for our proud high school graduates.

  1. Immediately get involved in some form of post-secondary education. It may be four-year or two-year education, or an apprenticeship, training or internship. Just don’t wave the diploma with glee and go to work for minimum wage. It is a dead-end road and there is no one who cannot advance his or her skills or knowledge beyond the high school level.
  2. Seize this opportunity to determine who should accompany you on the rest of your journey. A lot of folk that you associate with up until high school or people you really didn’t choose; those enrolled at your school, those who live in your neighborhood, those in the social circle that you navigate. Now is the time to separate those who weigh you down from those who lift you up.
  3. If you haven’t made a career choice at this point, you are woefully late. But not too late. Do it today. Every day you awaken and go to bed at night in indecision is another day lost that could have been used to fulfill your goal. Figure out what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at and what would give you a real sense of fulfillment. Changing plans is okay. Not having plans is unacceptable.
  4. Don’t be afraid to press the “reset” button on your life. If you feel you were insignificant in high school, or just didn’t seem to measure up to your peers, kiss that insecurity good bye. Figure out why you even think that way and reprogram yourself with whatever it takes to rebuild (or establish for the first time) self-esteem. Then proceed to becoming the king or queen you are inside.
  5. Take a mindset with you in life that says: (a) “With the help of God, there is nothing that I cannot accomplish.” (b) “My worth is not dependent on the affirmation of others because I love me.” (c) “If I focus only on myself then I will never receive full success or fulfillments.” (d) “Honor all of those who made a difference in my life.” (e) “Succeed in spite of haters and nonbelievers.”
  6. Focus. Never forget where you came from or get sidetracked on your journey.

And as for brothers and sisters who recently completed associate, undergraduate, masters or doctoral degree programs at colleges and universities across the nation, I humbly and lovingly offer congratulations and a few thoughtful caveats for your consideration as you embrace the reality that prospects for learning in life never end.

  1. Don’t panic if you aren’t immediately employed in the most preferred field of your degree. Sometimes the worthwhile needs take longer to develop.
  2. Retain contact information and keep in touch with those who were on campus with you – including certain faculty and staff. Networking rocks!
  3. Consider what is best for you in terms of whether you should pursue another degree, chill for a minute to regroup, or go right into the job market.
  4. Before you get distracted, stockpile important career information collected in college to reference as needed without having to research from scratch.
  5. Know that being a team player at the corporate level does not require assimilation or acquiescence of your truths. Hold onto values and principles.
  6. Immediately determine areas in your community in which your services, contributions and volunteerism would be a blessing. Get involved.
  7. Prepare to weather the storms when people fail to recognize your worth, with the assurance that ultimately, greater good prevails over adversity.
  8. Don’t take life too seriously. Have fun. Relax. Enjoy life. Be that balanced man or woman who knows the right time and place for everything.
  9. Never give up. Frustration, heartbreak and disappointment are a part of life. But it is up to you to determine how quickly and completely you are able to recover and move on.
  10. Finally, maintain your moral compass: Never neglect family, always stay true to friendship, and most importantly – praise, worship and obey God.

It is truer than ever in this highly competitive nation and global market that education is key to the possibilities of Black Americans. While there are no opportunities guaranteed by a degree, you are guaranteed far fewer options if you don’t have one (or more).

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: vernonawilliams@yahoo.com.

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