As graduation season approaches, some words of advice to students (and others)

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[As a law professor at Suffolk University Law School, I’ve been serving as the founding faculty advisor to a new student-edited law journal, Bearing Witness: A Journal on Law and Social ResponsibilityBW just published its second issue, and I contributed a short column of advice to the students in response to a request from the editors. I thought I’d share it here.]

When the editors of Bearing Witness invited faculty to contribute short pieces of advice for the second issue, I wasn’t sure what to offer. But then I started thinking about life in general, and suddenly the words came easier. Do not assume that I’ve done all these things right; rather, some of these points represent lessons learned. Here goes:

  1. Living a fulfilling life beats living a mindlessly happy one. Just my opinion.
  2. Pick your battles carefully, but don’t use that maxim as an excuse for never getting involved. The world is littered with people who always find reasons not to take a principled stand.
  3. When it comes to people you want to be around, political affiliations may be important, but overall character and a sense of humor count for even more.
  4. The years ahead will be very challenging ones for this world. Concerns about the economy, jobs, and the environment, to name a few, aren’t going away. Strive to contribute solutions.
  5. Personal setbacks and hard times are never good, but they can teach us about resilience, recovery, and renewal.
  6. A dose of self-promotion is often helpful toward success, but rather than constantly trying to impress people, let your work and deeds do most of your speaking for you. Avoid becoming one of those highly credentialed individuals whose greatest talent is “wowing” people in an interview.
  7. The Golden Rule is hard to live by sometimes, but it’s a key to a better world.
  8. If someday you reach a point where you have a group of friends going back 20 years or more, consider yourself blessed.  Make those friends now, and in 20 years you’ll know what I mean.
  9. All that stuff about finding your own way, choosing your own path, etc., may sound trite, but give it some hard thought. Few things are worse than living an inauthentic life.
  10. Be accountable to yourself. Own up to your miscues and mistakes. It’s easier said than done, I know, but you’ll feel better about yourself in the long run.
  11. Keep learning and growing. If someone wrote in your high school yearbook, “Stay the way you are! Don’t ever change!,” don’t take it literally.
  12. Whether you loved law school, hated law school, or fell somewhere in between, you can use this knowledge to make a positive difference. Good luck!

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Related posts

How a Cole Porter musical embodies Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences (2013) — Includes a link to a terrific Ball State University commencement speech by Tony Award-winning performer Sutton Foster, who tells graduates, above all, don’t be a jerk.

Inauthenticity and the fast track to a midlife crisis (2013) — “But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to pick and choose wisely among these markers of achievement. If you fail to do so, you may find yourself living an inauthentic life (at least the part spent at work), and your psyche may struggle with the grudging realization that you’re pursuing someone else’s definition of success.”

Some Graduation Day-type reading (2012) — “For those of us in the education field, this is Commencement season, and with it brings the usual blizzard of graduation speeches — a few truly excellent, most okay, and a sprinkling of the genuinely dreadful. I’m not about to offer the online version of one of these speeches, but instead, I want to share four books for graduates and non-graduates alike that contain a lot of wisdom, guidance, and food for thought.”

How’s this for an epitaph? “She lived a balanced life” (2011) — “Way back in 1985, Norman Redlich, the dean of NYU Law School, referenced those Broadway lyrics in his remarks at our graduation convocation. His message: It sounds great, but most of us can’t have it all. There are choices to make and realities to navigate in a life that moves all too quickly.”

Willy Loman, defining success, and the Great Recession (2010) — “J.K. Rowling . . . told the graduates that bottoming-out as a financially-strapped single mom prodded her to finish the manuscript that led to the Harry Potter series. Rowling smartly added: ‘You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.'”

 

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