Suzanne Tobias

Real-world wisdom: Advice for high school and college graduates


In coming weeks, thousands of Kansas students will celebrate a milestone achievement: high school or college graduation.

Along with the parties, the handshakes, the poignant goodbyes and the fretting over which side of your mortarboard the tassel should go, graduates will hear plenty of advice. Just about everyone who has ever received a diploma seems ready to impart some tidbit of wisdom.

We recently asked readers to share their best piece of advice for those graduating from high school or college, and we received dozens of responses via e-mail and social media. Here is some of the feedback.

Discover your passion

▪ “Take all kinds of classes – not just what is required for your major. Take chances on other classes that interest you. You may find your true calling on a different path than the one you started on.” (Stacy Ortega Engels)

▪ “An internship in a field you’re interested in can be invaluable. I almost made a horrible occupational and educational mistake, but learned from an internship that this was not the direction I wanted to go.” (Bruce Huss)

▪ “If you’re undecided about what to major in, just pick an area you have an interest in and go with it. As you take a variety of different classes, you’ll eventually realize where your true passion lies.” (Laura Jacot)

▪ “Don’t be discouraged if the next step (first job, internship, class) is not exactly what you had in mind. You never know where it will lead, and it usually leads to something unexpected and great.” (Jamie Opat)

▪ “Don’t have some preconceived idea about what your career will be. Take new opportunities as they come. Be flexible and adaptable because you never know what may come along and change the trajectory of your life. My career looks nothing like I planned for, and it’s because I took left turns every time a fork presented itself. It’s been a fun ride!” (Brandi Koskie)

Explore the world

▪ “Focus on experiencing what the world has to offer – other cultures, the wonders of the world, more knowledge. … Strive to experience something new every day. Make the next 18 years about living life.” (Michael Capps)

▪ “Find out how big the world is before you find out how small it is.” (David Kamerer)

▪ “Get your passport. Now.” (Maureen Masters)

▪ “High school grads: Go AWAY to college. Live in the dorms. It may cost a lot, but what you get out of it is priceless.” (Dennis Nelson)

▪ “If you are a Latino graduate, consider moving to a more immigrant- and diversity-embracing part of the country, such as California or New York.” (Francisco Gonzalez)

▪ “Get away from mommy and daddy. Get out on your own and find out what the real world is like. You can always bring laundry home during the holidays if you’re within driving distance.” (Shane Pope)

▪ “Spend at least one semester abroad if you are able.” (Karla Crockett Scholfield)

Finding friends

▪ “Get involved in something – a club, frat, sorority or … student newspaper. Meeting and getting to know other students, some of those will be friends for life.” (Jeff Tuttle)

▪ “Go through rush even if you don’t want to join. You’ll meet lots of people!” (Gretchen Roy)

▪ “You live by the decisions and the friends you make.” (Mike Felton)

▪ “College can be when you gain your most important lifelong friends. Don’t underestimate the importance of having late-night ‘meaning of life’ conversations in some off-beat diner.” (Karen Hinz)

▪ “Don’t settle when it comes to marriage. Finding the perfect person for you is well worth the wait.” (Dian Curtis Regan)

▪ “Now is the time to say hello to strangers.” (Paola Banchero)

College isn’t the only option

▪ “If you’re not sure about college, take a bit of time to work and figure it out. But advanced training is a must. … Look at trade schools, etc. But do something!” (Jill Schalon)

▪ “Go to a two-year college first. The money saved is unbelievable, and the education is still there.” (Kris Shaw)

▪ “Before you take any class at a junior college, be sure it transfers to your next school and applies to your degree program. … If you’re inclined to serve your country, don’t let the opportunity to enlist pass you by. The GI Bill is a scholarship; they just don’t market it well.” (Darren Whitley)

▪ “So many kids just turn to four-year college because they feel it’s what they should do. There is nothing wrong with trade/technical schools and community college. Do what you want to, not what your parents want for you.” (Renee Sekzer Foss)

Practical advice

▪ “Rent, don’t buy your books.” (Beverly McFarland)

▪ “Invest in a good raincoat and/or umbrella. Walking across campus in a rain storm can really ruin your day.” (Lacy Jaye Hansen)

▪ “Figure out how to use public transportation in tandem with cycling. (No pun intended.)” (Beth Golay)

▪ “Stay on your parents’ health insurance plan as long as possible.” (Charity Jeffries Ohlund)

▪ “Live in the dorms.” (Karla Stenzel)

▪ “Listen and learn. Read and learn. Watch and learn. When someone starts taking a late-night collection to go get another keg for the party, it’s time to go.” (Katrina Waugh)

▪ “Words to live by: Don’t sweat the petty things. Don’t pet the sweaty things.” (Tim Peeler)

Enjoy the moment

▪ “Once you get a college degree, go do something fun for a year.” (Emily Millspaugh)

▪ “Know who you are, be true to yourself, but live today for today.” (Al Buch)

▪ “Don’t wait.” (Timothy Kaul)

▪ “Take your time and enjoy the ride. There is time for marriage and children later. This is the only time in your life that things are about you! And … reinvent. If you didn’t like yourself, your station or your attitude during this ‘season,’ create a new one going forward.” (Kaye Monk-Morgan)

▪ “Skinny dip in the ocean. Dance on the tables. Buy the bar a round (when you’re of age). And for heaven’s sake, get ahold of some good internships and work your butt off. Then you’ll graduate college with a good job to support your future children, and some great stories to tell them down the road.” (Cat Poland)

▪ “Don’t be in such a hurry to get to the next step, phase, or milestone of your life.” (Anna Drachenberg)

▪ “Don’t be afraid to fail. … Follow your dreams and enjoy each moment, even the bumps in the road. Those bumps will make the best stories to share with your kids down the road.” (Teresa McWain Roos)

▪ “Find at least one thing to truly appreciate every day, even if it’s something like, ‘I’m still looking for a job, but at least I got to drink clean water today.’” (Becky Hedges Litchet)

▪ “Embrace the community. Go see the plays. See movies in the student union. Walk when you can. Take breaks and read. Enjoy the campus. Maintain or develop a strong work ethic. Pay attention to how you learn and work best. Be safe. Don’t forget to call home, especially if you have younger siblings. Get some sleep. Try and love every minute. Be thankful you get this opportunity.” (Gigi Phares)

▪ “Go with the flow. Don’t get so caught up right now in not having the perfect or anticipated job, boyfriend, girlfriend, car, house, etc. As long as you’re out there participating in real life, the universe has a way of laying things at your feet – most of which you had no idea you were desperately in need of.” (Gail Fisher)

Never stop learning

▪ “Stay in touch with your best supporters and friends from university. Find a good professional organization for networking and moral support. Don’t stop learning.” (Shannon Littlejohn)

▪ “Just keep going to school.” (Mike Rishell)

▪ “Education doesn’t stop at graduation. Opportunities are everywhere, and there are always people that will share their knowledge and experiences if you are truly interested.” (Barry McEachern)

▪ “Don’t think of education as something you get in high school and at the university (or the vocational school) that you choose. It is just two steps in giving you the skills that you will need in your lifelong attempt in understanding your world and in your journey of becoming a good person.” (Stanley Reeser)

▪ “Learn for the sake of learning.” (Renee Walton)

▪ “Learn to read slowly and carefully, to listen intently, to think deeply and critically, to speak and write thoughtfully, and to apologize quickly and sincerely.” (Tina Bennett)

▪ “Stay in school. It only gets worse after you get out.” (Eric Sparky Stites)

Getting a job

▪ “Get internships every summer you can. College internships, more than a graduation certificate, have landed the best jobs.” (Patricia Hileman)

▪ “Network! It’s not always what you know. It’s who you know.” (Jessica DeVader)

▪ “Don’t go to college just to go. Consider the investment against any eventual reward, and think about the fields that will be in demand in the next 20 years.” (Matt Drachenberg)

▪ “Spend more time on things that matter. Getting drunk every weekend will not help you get a good job when you’re 24, but good work habits will.” (Emily Dean)

▪ “You learn the majority of your job in the field. High school/college can only teach so much. There is something to be said for real-world experience.” (Teri Epley Slavenburg)

Money, money, money

▪ “Learn how to maintain a budget early in adulthood.” (Abby Hauck)

▪ “Work the summer before you go and stockpile the money. You could have a tough schedule and not be able to work part-time during the semester.” (Tara Czepiel)

▪ “If your parents didn’t put energy into teaching you the role that good money management plays in the quality of your life over time, then get some assistance right away with this. It’s not about how much money you make, but how you create a relationship with this in your decision-making.” (Leigh Aaron-Leary)

▪ “Don’t use credit cards unless you absolutely have to.” (Alan Burch)

▪ “Learn how to make a budget, live within your means, start an emergency fund, and stay out of credit card debt!” (Dawn Warren Sauer)

▪ “Don’t pile on debt at some pricey school to get the basic classes out of the way. Save the loans for a school that is the best choice for the major you decide on. Or, save it for the best grad school in your program.” (Maria Tilford Hunter)

▪ “Shred credit cards, or at least don’t carry them with you.” (Pat Olson)

▪ “Stay away from student loans. You’ll be paying them off until you’re lying in your coffin.” (LaKara Childers)

▪ “Pay yourself first! Doesn’t matter how much you make from whatever job you hold, always put something back into savings.” (Sharon Kehrer Michaels)

Remember where you started

▪ “Don’t quit practicing the faith you learned living with your parents. I dropped church altogether in college, and I wish I hadn’t. It took a few years after college to find my way again.” (Jennifer Fraley Thornberry)

▪ “Continue to live with your parents on the dole. Life is hard. Stay in mom and dad’s basement.” (Lon Smith)

▪ “Take a moment to breathe – to recognize what you have accomplished. Then move forward with courage into the future you choose. Always remember to honor each accomplishment before you move on to the next task. That way you build a strong foundation, acknowledging where you’ve been and what you’ve learned to take with you into the future.” (Deborah Ballard-Reisch)

▪ “Don’t forget, while you are out there following and chasing your dreams, to never let go of nor forget about your true friends and family.” (Kelley Hoffman)

▪ “Parents should tell kids, ‘I am proud of you. And just a little reminder: We have supported you, given you encouragement, love, money, and someday you will have to turn around and take care of me. So get a great job and marry money.’” (Stan Rogers)

▪ “Call your mom often!” (Cindy Yde)

Life is what you make it

▪ “Remember the world owes you nothing. If you desire something, make a plan and work. … If you wait for it to be handed to you, you will have a very long wait.” (Rick Sample)

▪ “You only get from life what you put into it. It owes you nothing that you do not work for.” (Trisha Davis)

▪ “Persevere. Life is full of ups and downs and many curve balls. Don’t be afraid to take an alternate route when the roadblock is not gonna budge.” (Tamra Becker Hall)

▪ “Two thoughts I wish I had come up with myself: 1) The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited. (Plutarch); and 2) Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans. (John Lennon)” (Jennifer Comes)

▪ “Realize that this world is cruel and you’re not entitled to anything, but make the most out of every opportunity. Work hard, be on time, speak politely and be accountable.” (Crystal and Philip Moore)

▪ “Life is not fair. Learn to compromise. Forgive but don’t forget. Do not be afraid to say ‘sorry’ or ‘I love you.’ Pray often.” (John Haught)

▪ “Life is a constant change of events – fundamentally – and keeping an open mind, being optimistic, and allowing yourself to be flexible will help you succeed through the phases of your life.” (Heidi Marcinik)

Just do it

▪ “Seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will come along with gusto and courage.” (Liz Hamor)

▪ “Ask questions.” (Rick Plumlee)

▪ “Question authority.” (R.J. Dickens)

▪ “Work hard, no matter how menial the job, and remember your word is your bond. If you say you will do something, do it.” (Kim Claeys)

▪ “Don’t let success go to your head or failure go to your heart. Fail forward, live in the moment, be kind, and love is God’s greatest gift of all.” (Jason Fisher)

▪ “Really listen to others. In the words of Cinderella’s mother: Have courage and be kind.” (Gina Spade)

▪ “Enjoy and learn from every day you are given.” (James Evenson)

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.