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How to Make Advice to College Graduates Suck Less

March 31, 2013 by Lady Unemployed

Some things just fall into your lap, don’t they?

On this beautiful Easter day, I found myself with the lack of something to write about. I thought about writing a post about Cracker Jacks or arguments I remembered having as a little kid or yet another post bemoaning my bad job.

And then yet another message to female college graduates became popular and I thought…hey, I’ll write about that.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I stumbled upon an article Yahoo! just published about Susan Patton, who is a 1977 Princeton graduate, and one of the first women to graduate from the Elite college. She caused a stir with her comments about how women should “find a husband before they graduate.” Here’s the complete letter.

Aside from the fact that the letter overall is pretty boring, I’d say the only difference between her advice and the other advice you end up hearing when you sit through graduation speeches is that it’s memorable. She is basically telling women to marry your intellectual equal. I’d say the reason she suggests to marry a guy before you graduate is that you are surrounded by more single guys in college than you are when you enter the work force (aka daily grind). I’m not saying I agree, but I’m just attempting to be the Devil’s advocate here.

The problem with this speech –  and the other speech that about women leaning in that caused a stir –  is that it’s pretty much the same advice I hear in any other college speech – forgettable with same lofty symbolism that goes above our heads.  These two just added a twist to it of two people who decided to reach for that button called “hot” that most of us know how to avoid.

To be honest, I barely remember my college’s graduation speaker, except I do remember the woman up on the podium referenced Wikipedia as a reliable source. This did cause some laughter. At my high school graduation, I ended up hearing three of my peers give speeches referencing advice from the great Dr. Seuss.

Yet,  the best college advice I’ve ever heard? That poem (turned song) Wear Sunscreen (written by Mary Schmich; song record by Baz Luhrmann). This wasn’t ever delivered to a graduating class directly, but it contains the best advice I ever heard.

If I could make any suggestion to colleges about finding people to deliver speeches, have a bunch of adults at any stage in their life…20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc. and have them go up on stage one at a time and talk about their regrets.

Have them be people who work at the local grocery store to the person who owns the nearby Fortune 500. Have them be people living pay check to pay check to a person living in a two story house. Have them be a student who graduated college the previous year to the 80 year old who never went to college at all. A woman with three kids to a woman who never had kids at all. A 30 year old who still lives in his parent’s house to a guy who never really had any family at all. 

Ask these people to talk about their regrets and what they wished they had done differently.

And then, and only then, will the advice we give to college graduates be interesting, inspiring, and not really, really stupid.


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