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Leadership columns

Previously published by The News-Press

"That is the eternal dream, that the next generation will surpass us."

"Journeys are filled with peaks and valleys, hazards and abundance, helping hands and needy souls."

"Resolve this: That at the end of your days, your regrets can be counted on one hand."

Five "Don'ts" for graduates

Published in The News-Press on 5/29/11


“The season” may be over, but another is here: the season of graduations. Whether or not you know someone dear who is undergoing a rite of passage, this is a momentous step in the circle of life.


These are the individuals who’ll replace us at work, inherit our tax burdens…pick our nursing homes.


Bright-eyed youngsters eager for high school; high schoolers advancing as young adults; college students ready to burst into the world; and higher level learners equipped with even more knowledge. While higher learning isn’t for everyone, nothing unlocks the world as education does.


I’ve had the privilege to address some of those undergoing this joyful transition, from the Cape Coral Excellence in Education event, honoring one student and one teacher from each school, to the Nation’s Association Charities gala, where Veronica Torres was awarded a four-year scholarship to FGCU; to the Take Stock in Children Graduation, where 36 at-risk youngsters all received four-year college scholarships. Next Sunday, I will join Hodges University graduates as their commencement speaker, an honor from President Terry McMahan that is truly humbling.


Allow me to share my key messages to these youngsters. (Spoiler alert to Hodges graduates!)


Today is a celebration. Today is the culmination of years of work by you, and of generations who labored to pave the way for you. And today is just one milestone on your journey of success.


Some of you are taking your first independent steps into the world. Others are life-long adventurers who declared it’s never too late to forge new paths.


There are many among us who are the trail blazers—parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, guardian angels and more. These forbearers demonstrated remarkable courage on their journeys, in a different age, during harder times, when they poured their sweat and hopes and determination into building America.


From their toil grew the land of opportunity. From their carefully tended seeds curled fragile sprouts that eventually will become mighty oaks. For that is the eternal dream, that the next generation will surpass us; that they will rise and soar.


So it is appropriate to first salute and give thanks to those who nurtured us.


Journeys take many turns. Just consider my story—from a village in Southern China around the world to Southwest Florida. Journeys are filled with peaks and valleys, hazards and abundance, helping hands and needy souls. You never know what’s around the bend. To launch you off on your journeys, let me share five fundamental don’ts.


One. Don’t long for tomorrow. Live for today.


In a blink of an eye, the years will fly.


For what seems forever, you will be condescended to as the young one with such potential who should patiently bide your time. Infuriating, isn’t it?


But suddenly, there’s a shock of white hair on your forehead, gravity is tugging on your tummy, and people are calling you m’aam. Or sir.


I know you are bursting to take over the world. But live the moment. Once the moment is gone, you’ll never get it back.


Two: Don’t live in regret. Do make wise choices.


Resolve this: That at the end of your days, your regrets can be counted on one hand. Take chances. Assume the best of others. Reach out. Explore that open door, that distant shore, that path less traveled. But be smart about it. Bring bug spray. The right shoes. Knowledgeable teammates.


Three: Don’t be dragged down by naysayers. Rise above them.


We all feel disappointment, anger, insecurity. But the triumph of the human spirit is that when we fall, we get back up. Surround yourself with those who energize you. Remove yourself from defeatist attitudes. When someone pushes you, don’t push back. Don’t let their problem make you a problem.


Four: Don’t be self-centered. Do give back.


Perhaps those naysayers need your positive energy. Don’t be so intent on the destination that you miss out on what’s going on around you. People are more important than things. Make connections, lend a hand. You may have to slow down, or even take a detour to help someone. Do it. Otherwise the journey is meaningless. And make sure your gift is a gift; nothing expected in return. That’s part of our responsibility: to give back, more than what we’ve taken.


And finally, five: Don’t underestimate yourself. Listen to your heart.


At the crossroads of adulthood, there’s so much anxiety: how do I look; how do I sound; will I fit in; who am I.


Know this: Each of us is a miracle. Within each of us is a spark that adds to the power of the universe. So march to your own drummer; march, waltz, hop, hip hop, rock or roll. Know yourself. Find your own music, your own calling, your own unique way.


Joyous journeys to you.

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