I am writing this missive because it is important to pass along information that may help you avoid pitfalls including making choices that have unintended consequences. Unfortunately, when I completed my bachelors degree at Cheyney University no one provided me with a roadmap or a detailed outline. In retrospect, I would have benefited from insight from a college graduate offering advice on a variety of issues including the importance of financial literacy, networking and long-term planning. Throughout my life I benefited from sound advice from individuals who cared enough to offer advice that helped me navigate life’s turbulent waters. I’m not suggesting that everything in this letter will make your decisions easier, barriers disappear or make your triumphs sweeter. My suggestions may or may not work and that’s ok. At least you have the opportunity to adopt, amend or create your own suggestions. Whatever you decide do not forget to give back to someone who could benefit from additional support or positive feedback.
Over the next few years you will encounter obstacles that challenge your emotional, physical and spiritual well being. Life is full of twists and turns that are not always apparent. However, your recent accomplishment exemplifies the best qualities shared by Marva Collins, Toni Morrison, Thurgood Marshall, Ella Baker and Janice Bryant Howroyd. Similar to these great luminaries you are destined for greatness but have to grind to shatter glass ceilings. Understand there are people who will underestimate you for various reasons but that should not deter you from reaching the top of the mountain. On your march up the mountain remember to create foot holes so others can follow. Below I identified a few suggestions that could be helpful, feel free to share with others.
- Manage you student loan debt– Do not let student loan debt ruin your life by defaulting or ignoring those pesky phone calls. You have options, if you can not find a job after graduating apply for a deferment. Usually the deferent process is simple so there is no need to ignore those loan payment coupons. In addition, President Obama introduced the “Pay as You Earn” plan that will make the repayment process much easier. The income based plan is perfect for individuals with limited family support, debt and a new job.
- Remember to say “thank you”– Over the next few months there are people you should take time to acknowledge including family, professors, administrators, members of the janitorial and auxiliary staff, rivals (they made you work harder), friends, library staff etc. Perhaps a professor gave you extra time to complete an assignment after a tragic event or a member of the auxiliary staff reminded you of a deadline. Do not forget that friendly member of the janitorial staff that told you to stay positive at a low point.
- Networking and the art of the interview– Take time to sign up for university or locally sponsored job fairs. Utilize relationships with classmates, fraternities and sororities, professors and mentors from internships and externships. Attend mixers prior to and after graduation if you plan to move to a new state or country. Make sure you have business cards with updated contact information. Look the part. When you interview or meet a prospective contact its important that your attire is consistent with the company culture.
- Don’t be discouraged– The job market is shaped by your experience, location, market trends and contacts. Finding a job (or being an entrepreneur) is not easy. Stay positive and continue to reach out to old friends.
- Be bold– Experience has taught me that taking a chance including moving outside the United States or choosing a job outside of your major is worth the risk. You may not always succeed but it’s better than regret.
- Focus on finishing strong– An anticipated graduation date and graduating are not the same. Work hard and don’t allow distractions to ruin your plans.
- Plan accordingly– Develop a list of realistic short and long term goals.
- Don’t be bitter– If something prevents you from graduating don’t despair. Focus on taking classes during the summer, fall or spring. Make sure family and friends understand that you may not graduate.
- Give back to your alma mater– Financially support your alma mater. Join the local alumni affiliate and sponsor a student in need.
- Reflect and exhale– Review all departmental, college policies and procedures to ensure you graduate on time. Send out graduation invitations and relax.
After graduation feel free to stay in contact via Twitter: @LarryJWalker2 or Facebook: Larry J Walker. Don’t be afraid to defy conventional thinking. I look forward to hearing from you.