Notes from my graduation address

One of my students, Lidia Davis, wrote this about my last lecture. It’s not a lecture so much as a 10-minute imparting of life lessons and a message about how much I appreciate the honor of teaching the class. Many professors do it. I tend to change the lessons every semester, updating them and refining them. And because I don’t want to be repetitive.

This semester, I geared my comments specifically to graduating seniors.

1. Don’t compare yourselves to your classmates. You’re unique. Screw the B-school students who think they have their lives figured out. I lived with six guys through college. We all had grand hopes on graduation day – doctors, lawyers, business magnates. Three years after graduation, two were in med school, two were in law school, two were in business and one – me – was a reporter in a small town. That year, I mentioned to a professor friend how I considered myself fortunate to be part of this group that was so impressive. He said, “Are you kidding? You belong. You more than belong. You help anchor these guys. Look, people bloom at different times in their lives. They simply bloomed earlier than you. Your time is now.” The truth – and belief in me – in his comment inspires me even today. (I doubt he remembers the conversation; more evidence of the point of the video Lidia references.)

2. Everyone hates their first jobs because first jobs suck. They are supposed to suck. No one falls in love with their first jobs. Their purpose is to calm your parents, add a resume item, provide some money, and give you time to find your second job, which will be a little better.

3. When you get that job, be on time, work hard and be kind to everyone. (I stole this advice from Ashton Kutcher.) Your bosses will notice. It’s also a habit you should practice to live a good life.

4. Listen, listen, listen. Listen better and more actively than you do in class. By listening, you learn. Listening helps you connect the dots and see around corners. And seeing around corners — anticipating the meaning of events and developments that will change your work — is how you make a difference.

5. Embrace change. It’s the obvious one. You think you do now, and you may, but you probably don’t. When Snapchat changed, did you groan or did you adjust and figure it out? You’re about to enter an environment where everything is Snapchat change, for good or worse. Help your business see the future and move ahead of it.

The one thing I never change is this video, which apparently affected Lidia in the same way it affects me. The video by Drew Dudley has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with realizing your place and your power in the world.

“It’s not about what we do,” Lidia wrote. “It’s not about where we go. It’s about the people we impact along the way—it’s about those in-between moments we don’t even consider relevant half the time.”

My students give me “those in-between moments” every day, and I’m enriched by them. It’s a big reason why I teach.