Survival tips 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

A blog pal recently asked if any of her regular readers had a few pithy words of advice for new graduates. I was reminded of an earlier column I wrote when my only son graduated from high school in 2004. I tucked it into his suitcase when he left for college, then dug it out of the archives the week before he walked across a stage in a black cap and gown at the University of Notre Dame.

Like most moms I know, I spent years drilling my kid on the importance of working hard, keeping his integrity, writing thank-you notes, and ironing his dress shirts. But I overlooked some things along the way. And besides — there are a few infallible pieces of advice that a parent simply cannot overemphasize. That’s why, six years ago, I wrote a list of “survival tips” and included them in the newspaper column. Here’s an excerpt:


*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 your old friends with as much respect as you’d treat business clients you want to impress.

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

*Encourage others to talk about themselves. You’ll make a great first impression and learn something new. Unless you’re on a job interview, the talk should never be all about you.

*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.

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

*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 and compassion, and 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.

*Keep your faith, but learn about the great religions of the world. Self-righteousness is a huge turn-off.

*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.

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

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

–The full version of this essay originally appeared in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, Mi.) and is reprinted in my book, Writing Home

Top photo: My son Nate (the tall guy) and his Zahm Hall buddies. Bottom photo: Andrea (Nate’s girlfriend) with Nate, Dad, and Mom on graduation day, 2008. Both photos taken on the University of Notre Dame campus.