Congratulations to Class of 2004


Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

'Tis the season for graduations. A time for some reflection, but mostly a time to look ahead to limitless possibilities. A time to dream big. A time to be on the receiving end of lots of advice. A time to take some of that advice and leave some behind.

In today's bigger-is-better and more-is-still-not-enough mentality, graduates would do well to resist the temptation to define their success by how big their paycheck is, how much stuff they own and if their names appear in lights and, if so, how bright those lights are.

Some recent statistics are powerful reminders that everyone can make a difference.

Consider, for example, this from the U.S. Small Business Administration:

Small businesses create approximately 70 percent of new private sector jobs in the United States and make up more than 99.7 percent of all employers. They employ about 50 percent of all private sector workers. Small businesses make up 97 percent of exporters and produce 29 percent of all export value.

Or, ponder this from The Foraker Group, an Alaska organization dedicated to strengthening the nonprofit organizations within the state in several ways, including by promoting a culture of philanthropy:

In 2002, total giving in the United States amounted to $241 billion. If you think most of that came from giant corporations or multi-millionaires, be prepared to be surprised. According to The Foraker Group, 5 percent of that was from corporations, 11 percent from foundations, 8 percent from bequests and 76 percent from individuals and 80 percent of those individuals lived in households with an income of under $50,000.

So, what's the message for grads?

First, don't dismiss small businesses as the key to your future. Those same organizations that supported you in your academic and athletic endeavors through your growing-up years also may be the perfect match for you as you begin your job search.

Second, don't wait until someday when you're wealthy to begin giving back. The Foraker Group says, and local nonprofit organizations confirm it's true, that some of the most generous in our midst are those who have the least to give.

And, in case grads don't have enough to think about, here's some advice begged, borrowed and stolen from graduates past:

Don't let what you do become who you are. Instead, let who you are determine what you do. Lucky is the person whose avocation and vocation are one and the same. The bottom line is : Do what you like, the money will follow.

Speaking of money, lots of yesteryears' grads wish they had taken a course in Personal Finance 101. They wish they had understood what $13,000 or more in student loans would mean to their take-home pay. They wish they had learned what it meant to financially responsible before they had to be financially responsible.

So, here's the Cliffs Notes version of Personal Finance 101: Never spend more than you earn. Have a money management plan. Follow it. Include giving and saving in your plan. Remember, most of the "stuff" money can buy you don't really need. Retirement may seem like a hundred years away, but don't wait until you're 40 to start saving for that day. While you may have to scrimp to start saving for retirement in your 20s, you will be the envy of all your friends by the time you reach your 40s if you do.

Befriend a mechanic.

Don't be afraid to try and fail. Failure comes in not trying at all. Consider risks the spices of life.

Call home. The world may be more wired than ever before, but people are more disconnected from each other than they have been in previous generations. Never underestimate the value of human contact.

Become a lifelong student and the world will never be a boring place.

Too much of anything is rarely good. Live a balanced life.

Technology may have made the world smaller, but it's still an incredibly fascinating place. Become a traveler and explorer even if it's in your own back yard.

Lots of people spend their life rushing from one thing to the next, never enjoying anything. Don't be one of them. At least once a week, slow down and treat yourself to a walk.

No one person can possibly know it all. Seek advice from those you admire and trust. It will make all your decisions wiser ones.

While it's important to always reach higher, it's also important to take time to acknowledge what you've accomplished. That's what graduation ceremonies are all about.

So, to the class of 2004 (and their families), congratulations. Bask in this milestone's moment. But don't get too comfortable. Colleges and other learning opportunities and adventures beckon, and there will be bills to pay.

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