Letter to a young graduate

Congratulations! You’re about to graduate. Next summer, you will begin the next phase of your life.

If you think that you’ve already found yourself, question that. Don’t be hamstrung by a singular passion. Be open. Be curious. Explore. Know that your passions and interests will change over time.

You’re multidimensional. You could do a multitude of things next. Re-evaluate your priorities. There may be greater joy in doing something other than what you think you want to do.

When I entered university, I wanted to be a philosophy major, considered economics, joined a pre-med program and finally entered engineering.

To help support myself during an internship term, I drove a cab over weekends. I interned as a photographer’s assistant one summer. I wrote and published poetry, participated in debates, wrote opinion pieces, was in student politics. I worked in a cooperative bookstore and wrote a cookbook from which my sons use recipes even today.

After graduating as a young engineer, I joined an MBA program, but left it to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering science. It was then that I found my passion. (And the love of my life, my wife, at the same time!)

Life is a journey. As you experience life, learn from it. Your journey will be more important than your destination. It will help define who you will become. You’ll become wiser and stronger.

Don’t accept unfair pay, or do meaningless work, or tolerate a boss who demeans you, or participate in a toxic work culture, or be loyal to an organization that doesn’t value you.

Speak up when you feel bullied. You cannot become a passive victim. Speak up also if you think that a bad decision is being made.

Don’t settle for less. Have your resignation letter and a strong resume ready. Use them when your working conditions become less than bearable.

Leave if you are passed over for promotions that you deserve. Don’t be a doormat. Explore the world of opportunities out there.

However modest or lofty your jobs is, treat everyone well. Be kind and courteous. Respect those who don’t have as much authority as you.

Provide honest feedback. Be straightforward. Others should know where you stand and how they can measure up to your expectations.

Have high standards but don’t be too hard, on others or on yourself. Perfection is for the eyes of gods alone.

Experience the world firsthand. Travel locally. Travel nationally. Go abroad.

Build community. Surround yourself with friends from different races, cultures, ethnicities, religions, nationalities and experiences. Support them and ask them to support you. Celebrate your success and overcome adversity with them.

Life will place enough limitations on you. Don’t let your mind fabricate many more of them. Overcome your fears and self-doubt.

Grand plans are one thing. Acting on them is another. Accept that you will become frustrated sometimes. Learn from your failures so that you can chart your successes.

Be comfortable with yourself. You’re going to spend a lot of time together, you and yourself.

Think big. Have a purpose. Solve problems that matter.

Ever think about running a start up? Will you be able to facilitate social good through a nongovernmental organization? Are you the innovator who will change an industry? Will you lead a company? Are you the researcher who will move science forward? Will you be the inventor who will produce amazing new products?

Be humble and give to your community. There are many different ways to do so.

How will you pay it forward? How will you give back? Will you be an advocate for sustainability? Will you help the less fortunate among us to educate themselves and their children? Will you advance public policy? Will you be a mentor?

Know that you can change the world, definitely the part that surrounds you. Leave whatever you touch better and more interesting than what you first found.

Reflect on all this as you spend this festive season with your family, friends and community.

Happy Holidays! I wish you peace, joy, reflection and laughter.


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