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dear college graduate
5 things you should know
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

Congratulations! You're the proud owner of a piece a paper that will launch you into the stratosphere. You've accomplished a milestone along your life's journey.

Now it's time to get serious.

No one has asked me to deliver a commencement address. However, because I'm often around a lot of students, I have some thoughts about your transition you might find easier to accept from someone you don't see every day.

1) Sorry you have student loans. But pay them. This may come as a surprise, so you might want to sit down: there are few opportunities in the world to get free money. I know, right? I don't care what the crazy infomercial man in the question-mark suit says. You borrow money for any reason, and you'll have to pay it back. Okay, maybe your Gran will float you, but it'll come out of your inheritance.

While it's despicable to think Congress is considering doubling the interest rate on certain student loans, you and/or your parents knowingly borrowed money for the college experience. It wasn't an alien abduction incident that forced you to sign the papers. You might, in the future, borrow money for a car or a home. Again, shocker, but you'll have to pay back those loans, too! I know, right? You may have had options, such as choosing a state college, working while in school, or delaying a year to reduce the debt. I understand that if you didn't have those options, you're looking at a lot of numbers.

But this is a responsibility that you accepted, so quit buying the latest gadgets, get a roommate, work two jobs if necessary, and pay your debt. You'll feel proud for doing so.

2) Write thank you notes. Gratitude is a lubricant that makes all cogs turn easier. An example: In the past month, I've had three frantic soon-to-be graduates or representatives of said graduates contact me at my place of employment asking for job shadow opportunities mandatory to complete their senior requirements. No worries, we can make them happen, even if they did wait until three weeks before finals to arrange them and think their emergencies are now my emergencies. In the case of one person, her reply after initiating contact with me was that my position wasn't one she wanted to shadow, and "she would let me know."

I'm not auditioning, sweetheart.

Then she crawled back to me a week later when someone else turned her down, reminding me of her dire need. Bad form. Nevertheless, I fulfilled her request by asking someone else for a favor.

Out of the three graduates mentioned above, only one bothered to send a thank-you email. In my industry, our paths may likely cross again. Who do you think I'll remember?

Crawl Back Girl did not send me a thank you. I'll remember her, too, but for different reasons.

Here's the thing: when a total stranger accommodates your need or extends a favor to you because he or she believes in the future of our young people, the least you can do is write a blasted thank you in return for their efforts. It's somewhat acceptable if you don't want to actually write a note on a piece of paper. But you bloody well better fire off an email within a week thanking your benefactor for the contact/shadow/letter/introduction.

Learn the value of networking. Maintain proprieties. Say please and thank you. Be kind and considerate to everyone you encounter. These are major steps toward your success at world domination.

3) Speaking of world domination, be bold. I don't have regrets about my past, but I do have wishes. I wish I would have joined the Peace Corps or traveled the world for a year or spent time on an Indian reservation to help children or anything more exotic than going straight from college into my career. I actually left college for my first big job. Again, no regrets, the path served me well. But, I wish.

Not all of our global society is accessible through the interwebs. So physical exploration is vital to your wellbeing. I don't mean to be a naysayer, but you'll have few opportunities to do these things once you commit to your career, then maybe to someone else, then maybe to a family, and so on. Now is the time to take advantage of your youth and independence to seek out opportunities that feed your soul. These experiences will influence your internal perspective, your future choices, and maybe even help you realize your true calling sooner than you think.

Okay, so it'll take another year to pay off student loans. But you'll be rich in stories.

4) Stop having Mom or Dad do everything for you. You're an adult. Hooray! You're independent. You're tech savvy. You can drink and vote and purchase a hotel room (but not a rental car yet, sorry) and fly to Bali and Thailand and all that good stuff. So why do Mommy and Daddy pay for your apartment? Your car? Your cell phone? Your credit card bill? Your gym membership? Who makes your doctor appointments? Who searches for jobs for you? Who reminds you to call your Gran and thank her for the money you borrowed, even though you can talk to six different people on three devices at the same time?

I'll let you in on a little secret. As much as these creature comforts make your life easier, your parents will brag endlessly about you when you start taking on some of these responsibilities. Even better? If you initiate the conversations leading to that change. Now that's the true definition of independence.

Because I'm not a mother, I also understand that some parents do everything for their children, whether the kids want it or not. For those who have the means, this is terrific. For a while. It's up to you to lift up your chin and simply say, "Thank you, but it's okay, I'll take care of it." Because doing everything for you means they have control over you. Strive for balance in your adult relationship with your parents.

5) I believe in you. Not in the Whitney Houston "children are our future" way, but in a "surely your belief system and work ethic will make the world a better place" kind of way.

It's my hope that you, with your massive exposure to social and traditional media, will know how to better cut through the clutter and find the truth. It's my hope that you, after observing what greed and corruption does to a society, will find a way to alter the perspective of how businesses and governments should run. It's my hope that you, with your quicksilver mind and ability to adapt, will create new developments that add more wonder to our existence. It's my hope that you, because you're strong and idealistic, will have the courage to instigate positive change in all the right places.

Good luck. Now, call your Gran.


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley


the not ready for primetime gripes
a few of my not-so-favorite things
by tracey l. kelley
topic: general
published: 9.29.03

of silver knights and fairy tales
pondering the first ten years
by tracey l. kelley
topic: general
published: 4.28.04


dirk cotton
4.30.12 @ 10:42a

I got my undergrad degree a long time before Tracey. I had a successful career and retired. Despite the differences in our ages and career stages, I have to say this is pretty darned good advice that would have held up well over the decades.

As a parent with two kids in college and one in med school, I particularly want to endorse point 4.

I would add, though, that college costs a lot more now than it did when I was in school and that means a lot more student debt, if you can afford college in the first place. It probably costs a lot more than when Tracey was in college.

I went to a state university in 1970 when tuition was $165 a semester. In today's dollars, that's a whopping 915 bucks. Yeah, you read that right.

tracey kelley
5.16.12 @ 4:59p

College does cost more than it did when we were there. So do cars. Apartments. Car insurance. Movies. Pizza. But we also didn't have cell phones, laptops, tablets, and so on that needed subsidizing. We had cheap dorms, not mini-apartments.

I received a grant for my first year of college, but worked full time my entire college career. Didn't have a choice: no mom or dad to pay for things, but did get to live with a friend and her mom while in school. Paid for my car, my car insurance, my share of groceries, etc.

Quality, progressive public primary education, which taxpayers partially provide, should be top-notch, as to equally allow for everyone to partake of opportunities. But if you choose to go to college, that's your decision, and it shouldn't come out of my purse.

There's also no rule that says you must finish college in four years, any more than you should go straight from high school to college. So working and going to school part time helps manage debt. And to take care of pre-reqs at a community college for a year or two is a smart financial decision. That tuition is approximately 1/3rd of other post-secondary institutions, even state universities.

So there are options for managing cost. But unless you're on a very specific career track (e.g. doctor, lawyer, scientist) and would prefer to start working before you're 30, floating a year or two of less-than-average classload also helps manage debt. After all, while you may want to get a marketing degree, it's not crucial that you get it by the time you're 22.

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