How to Help New Graduates Tackle the Challenges of Commencement

A graduate at commencement with grandparents
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Every year, usually in May and June, young men and women participate in commencement exercises.

The graduates are beginning a new chapter in their lives. Many are continuing their education, some are entering the professional world and others are uncertain of their future.

Some may experience post-commencement stress.

As you attend graduation ceremonies and hear words of advice from the student and keynote speakers, think about ways that you can guide and assist these graduates as they enter this new chapter in their lives. This is a time for celebration but also a time for stress and uncertainty.

Freedom from Fear

“It was so important for me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing is, is to be true to yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s gotten me to this place. I don’t live in fear. I am free.”

— Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

Commencement speeches are usually positive words that extol the importance of education. These positive words are well received by those graduates who have a clear direction and plan. But positive speeches may not be well received by graduates who don’t know what to do after they receive their diploma or may have accepted a job that doesn’t match their passions or career direction.

Straightforward advice, similar to the words of DeGeneres, may be more helpful to many graduates. These individuals may feel a lack of support after commencement since they are no longer surrounded by their familiar support system of friends, professors, living quarters and college surroundings.

It is important to reach out to these graduates and offer them the following advice:

  • It may take time to find the right direction in life.
  • Life has ups and down following graduation. Share some examples from your life.
  • Be honest about how you felt after graduation.
  • Explain how it is helpful to have a supportive network and encourage the graduate to reach out for advice and support, especially during times of fear and doubt.

Love What You Do

“I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

— Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

If you are a recent graduate, you might learn that it takes time to discover what it is you love to do. Many people change jobs multiple times throughout their careers. Many adults return to school to learn new skills and perfect previously learned ones. Additional opportunities may create anxiety and stress. It is not unusual to experience:

  • Sleepless nights
  • Feeling irritable
  • Avoidance of previously enjoyed activities

Don’t be ashamed to reach out for support and help if you are experiencing these symptoms

Be Yourself

“I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”

— J.K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008

It may not be easy for graduates to be themselves as they are figuring their way out through new careers. But it is an important step to take and strive toward. In doing this you should:

  • Accentuate your positives.
  • Don’t concentrate on your negatives.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Realize that this is a new chapter in your life that takes time to evolve.
  • Never give up on yourself.
  • Network and surround yourself with like-minded individuals.

As you receive your diploma and throw your cap in the air, realize that this is a wonderful time in your life. It is a time of anticipation, excitement and uncertainty. Your feelings are not unusual.

Remember to face fear, strive for what brings you passion and be yourself. These three steps will help you on the road to success.

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.


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