I wasn’t invited to give a graduation speech this spring. Still, I was prepared, and since a good speech is a terrible thing to waste, I offer it to you now.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2023:
You did it. You worked hard, and you stuck it out even when you wanted to quit. You persevered, and for that, I offer my sincerest congratulations. Lest you conclude that you’ve just crossed the finish line, let me point out that you have just arrived at the starting gate.
Now it’s time to run the race.
Get a job. I know it is your intention to get a job, but do not extend to yourself the luxury of taking the summer off. There’s a pervasive attitude among college students that really great jobs await those with degrees. Yes, it is true that your lifetime earnings are likely to surpass what your peers without degrees can expect to earn, but not in the beginning. To achieve lifetime earnings, one must actually become employed.
Plan to start at the bottom. This is called the entry-level. There are no really great jobs at the entry-level. Teachers, attorneys, doctors, stockbrokers, electricians, plumbers and all professions require entry at the bottom. That means the lowest pay. If you think you had to scrape and scrimp in college, think of that as the dress rehearsal for what is to come.
Attack your debt. Statistics suggest the vast majority of you leave college with student and credit card debt. The decisions you make for how you manage your debt will significantly impact the direction of your life.
You have two choices. You can defer, avoid, ignore, prolong and otherwise try to put off repayment until some more convenient time in the far-distant future. OR you can face your debt head-on starting now, believing that life’s greatest opportunities are reserved for those who are not chained to debt. The choice you make will absolutely set your course for life.
Put yourself on a three-year repayment schedule and stick to your plan as if your life depends on it. It may.
Live frugally. Never allow yourself to spend all that you have. Strive to do whatever it takes to live below your means. Make it your personal rule of life to give away part of what you receive. That will keep you from greed. Likewise, save some for your future. That will keep you from fear and worry.
Keep driving your old car. There’s no new car that feels as good as a car payment feels bad.
Be careful about whose advice you follow. Learn to decipher what really matters to you so you won’t waste your time and money on things that don’t. Become masterful at using your common sense, what you know to be true. Don’t be thrown off-track by passing fads and cool trends.
Do not try to impress others. To do so gives them the power to make choices for you.
Do not focus on what you lack. Determine instead to want what you have and to be truly grateful. Strive to be content, for that is how you will find joy and peace of mind.
And trust me on the debt issue. Really.