Commencement Advice for the Class of 2020: Be Resilient

It’s graduation season and even though the celebrations may look different this year, I think that it’s important for us to pause and celebrate the graduating class. They’ve worked hard to get to this point and we shouldn’t let the shadow of uncertainty for what’s next eclipse the joy of this occasion. 

As a parent of a graduating senior, I’m especially conscious of the impact COVID-19 will have on these young men and women and the obstacles ahead of them. 

High school graduates are uncertain as to whether they will get to experience college life on campus or whether they will continue online learning or some hybrid thereof. Some are considering a gap year or foregoing a traditional college experience altogether in favor of online programs. 

College graduates are looking for jobs in an economy with roughly 15% unemployment. As a result of the economic shutdown and resulting high unemployment, jobs are harder to come by and graduates may be forced to take lower-paying jobs or jobs below their skills set. 

This will likely impact not only their current income but their retirement income as well since they will likely make lower contributions to their retirement accounts or delay saving altogether. The statistics can be disheartening if you allow yourself to dwell on them. 

In our family, however, we choose to focus on the positive because we believe your mindset can determine your future. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” 

With the closure of non-essential businesses and the inability to spend time with their friends due to social distancing, our kids have spent more time watching movies together the last several weekends. We found some great, inspirational stories and which also prompted some quality discussions with our kids about values, work-ethic, passion, and attitude. 

Sometimes I think we focus on grades too much and soft skills too little. I have been guilty of this since it’s the grades and the test scores that colleges look at for admission decisions; yet in the work world, I care very little about a graduate’s GPA. 

I care more about their work ethic, problem-solving skills, communication, teamwork, adaptability, and perseverance. So here’s some advice to the class of 2020 and just for fun, I’ve included movie references for both illustration and entertainment.

Greater (about football player Brandon Burlsworth): From a young age Burlsworth wanted to play football for the University of Alabama. In his youth, he was not particularly athletic or talented but he was determined and had a work ethic that matched his determination. 

Believing he could achieve his dreams, Burlsworth bets on himself using all the money he can come up with to fund one year at the University of Alabama and a walk-on spot on the school’s football team. Burlsworth’s bet (and a lot of hard work) pay off and he secures a scholarship for his remaining years at the University of Alabama. 

Burlsworth completes his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees while playing football and goes from the walk-on to an All-American player and NFL draft pick. Moreover, his hard work and the results he achieves inspire his teammates and the team pursues a run at the national championship in his senior year. 

The takeaways from this story for the class of 2020: (1) don’t let others’ disbelief discount your dreams or your abilities; (2) be coachable: no matter how smart you are, there is always something you can learn from others; (3) a strong work ethic can make what seems impossible, possible (4) do more than is expected of you and (5) lead by example.

The Rocket (about a high school football player turned cross-country runner): The Rocket tells the story of Joshua Davis, a teen football star who has put a ton of time and effort into developing his skills only to be told he can no longer play football after a fall from a moving vehicle leaves him with a serious brain injury.

After the accident, Davis must pivot and recast his dreams, identity, and aspirations to something new. With the prompting of the school’s cross-country coach, Davis decides to give running a try and applies the same discipline and hard work he relied on in football to help his team win the State Championship. 

The takeaways from this story for the class of 2020: (1) you’ve got to put in the time if you want to see the results and (2) don’t let a pivot deter you from greatness, preserve and keep going. As Michael Jordan once said “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Soul Surfer (about surfer Bethany Hamilton): Soul Surfer tells the story of Bethany Hamilton who lost her left arm at the age of 13 during a shark attack. Despite the odds, Bethany returns to surfing overcoming a number of obstacles to become a professional surfer. Since her attack, Hamilton has placed in a number of world surfing competitions and was the first female surfer to surf in the Rip Curl Cup in 2012. 

The takeaways from this story for the class of 2020: (1) be courageous, (2) don’t give up on your dreams; (3) attitude is everything. “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up” (Vince Lombardi).

So, to the graduating class of 2020, dream big, work hard and when you get knocked down, get back up, dust yourself off, re-calibrate if you need to, and keep going! 

Original article published in LinkedIn:

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