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A short survival guide for grads

At commencement you wear your square-shaped mortarboards. My hope is that from time to time you will let your minds be bold, and wear sombreros.” ~Paul Freund

Like most moms, I spent years lecturing my child on the importance of working hard, eating healthy meals, writing thank-you notes, and ironing his dress shirts. But I neglected to impart other nuggets of wisdom along the way. As my dad used to say, earning good grades is important, but learning how to get along with people is even more important.

That’s why I wrote the following list of graduation “survival tips” and shared them in my local newspaper column before my son left home for college. I’m sending heartfelt congrats to all the new graduates this season!

“A Survival Guide for Grads”

*Relationships, like cars, need regular upkeep or they won’t keep running. Maintain the good friendships you’ve made as surely as you forge new ones. Treat old friends with as much respect as you’d treat anyone else you hope to impress.

*Learn from your adversaries. The people who push our buttons tend to reflect qualities we dislike in ourselves.

*Find your inner compass and avoid seeking approval from others. Be too busy to wonder what other people think of you.

*Encourage others to talk about themselves. Ask questions. You’ll make a great first impression and learn something new.

*Don’t be too proud to ask for help when you need it.

*The notion that everyone is having a better time somewhere else is one of the world’s dumbest illusions. Refuse to believe it. Throw your own party.

*Losing is a great character builder. If your best effort misses the mark, ask yourself what you can learn from the experience.

*Be a community builder wherever you go. If we can’t make peace with our neighbors, there’s no hope for the rest of the world.

*Be thoughtful. Good manners were designed to make others feel comfortable.

*Handle money with respect. Never let it run your life, overshadow your career, or spoil your personal relationships.

*Strive for decency, honesty, and compassion. Accept nothing less from everyone you hang out with.

*Get enough sleep; take care of your body. Pay attention to what you eat, where it came from, and why you’re eating it.

*Make good on your word. Show up on time. If you promised to bring the salad or move furniture, follow through. Return what you borrow.

*Get over yourself and get some perspective. Most worries fade when you stop taking everything too seriously.

*Spend time outdoors. A walk in the woods is the best antidepressant.

*Spend time alone. Creative ideas and solutions are sparked in solitude.

*Never leave your underwear on the floor. As every good room mate will tell you, neatness is essential in cramped spaces.

*Don’t wait for holidays to tell people how much you appreciate them.

*Always take the high road. Admit your blunders and apologize if you’ve hurt someone.

*Don’t limit your shopping to chain stores. Support local businesses and discover the heart and soul of every new town you visit.

*Travel is the best way to learn about the world, but stay on the lookout for a place to set down roots.

*Savor your memories but don’t live in the past. Anyone who insists their high school or college years were “the best” is stuck in a rut. Life gets richer and juicier as you move on. Enjoy every minute.

*Never forget how much you are loved. Phone home when you need a reminder.

— Cindy La Ferle

–This is an edited version of an essay that first appeared in The Daily Tribune and is included in my essay collection, Writing Home. Learn more about the book here.


Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.


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