Life lesson for students: graduation is always closer than you think. One moment you’re hanging out with friends in Freshers Week, the next you’re capped, gowned, and thrust out into the big wide world.
Unfortunately, that world tends to be confusing, difficult, and scary. Fortunately, universities attempt to equip students with some inspirational advice before they go. Graduation speeches by illustrious alumni or celebrity speakers are designed to set students off on the right road. Listen up to the best of the best, and you’ll find this adulting malarkey a whole lot easier:
“No matter what path you choose, I want you to make sure it’s you choosing it, and not someone else.” – Michelle Obama (full speech)
Life is a series of choices. Which career will you pick? Where will you live? Will you take time out after uni or plunge straight into the world of work? Everyone around you will have an opinion on which choice is best, and those opinions will differ wildly from each other.
While it’s important to listen to the advice of those who care about you, every decision you make should be your own. Never feel pressured to define yourself by someone else’s idea of success. We only become the best we can be when we feel passionate about the project we’re undertaking, so without following your own dreams you’ll never realise your full potential. Yes, you’ll probably make mistakes, change your mind, reverse course… but that’s what makes life interesting. Just don’t get yourself into a position where you waste years of your life on something that you never wanted.
“If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be full of cowboys and princesses.” – Stephen Colbert (full speech)
It’s always okay to change direction. Maybe you studied a law degree only to realise that you don’t want to be a lawyer. Maybe you studied art and now do want to be a lawyer. Either way, don’t beat yourself up for getting it “wrong”. Instead, come up with a plan for getting what you want.
Remember that we’re always growing as people. We want dramatically different things at different points in time because we’ve become a different person. Keep listening to yourself and keep adapting. Variety is good for us.
By the same token, if you’ve been holding on to hopelessly unrealistic dreams then now is the time to let them go. Measure your expectations against your reality and if they don’t match, reassess.
“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.” – K. Rowling (full speech)
Or blaming anyone else, FYI. The whole point of being an adult is that you take on full responsibility for yourself and your actions. Holding yourself accountable motivates you to get the task done. It allows you assess failures with a clearer head. And success, when it comes, feels sweeter, because you know that you alone earned it.
Bad things happen, and they can throw everything off kilter. It’s okay to be upset, to struggle, to ask for help. But don’t ever let anything negative drag you down to the point where you give up. Every step forward, however small, is a step in the right direction. Keep trying and your effort will pay off. Good things don’t come to those who wait, but those who work.
“We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat.” – Tim Minchin (full speech)
The rise of the phrase “post-truth” to describe the prevalence of inaccurate statements in modern media and politics shows how important it is to never take anything at face value. Modern graduates hold a unique position of privilege: not only are they highly educated in the traditional sense, but the smartphones that most carry around in their pockets give them access to an unprecedented amount of information. Take advantage of these opportunities; keep learning.
The best way to challenge your beliefs is to expose them to opposing views. Attend debates. Discuss issues with peers. Read voraciously. All these things will make you more informed, more balanced, and more accurate in the opinions you hold.
“Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal.” – Sheryl Sandberg (full speech)
There are always going to be problems in your life. There are always going to be obstacles between you and what you want. Learning to tackle and surmount them is the basis of success. But you can help yourself immensely by limiting your struggles to facing barriers that are outside your control.
Self-belief and confidence are the most important skills you can ever develop. Nobody else will see potential in you if you cannot see it in yourself. So many tasks are deemed impossible until someone comes along to try, to work, to sacrifice, and to prove the doubters wrong. You are just as good as anyone else, and you have just as much chance to succeed. Believe that, and you’ll be amazed how far you can go.
Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs listings for roles. Or; if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.